In January, political activities in Panama are expected to ramp up as President Martinelli's presidential term is coming to an end. Panamanian law allows for an elected president to serve only one political term of 5 years. Ex-pats obviously aren't allowed to vote, and many Spanish-illiterate, ethnocentric gringos in Boquete expound their views that ex-pats should remain completely unengaged in local politics. I assert that being unable to vote doesn't mean we should remain uneducated, uninformed, and uninterested in what will be occurring around us regarding the presidential elections. It is not my intention to go out and campaign for any particular political candidate, but I feel understanding the individual platforms and leanings of each candidate is reasonable, given I've chosen to make my home here. That said, I'm finding it isn't all that easy to do. Nevertheless, I've decided to undertake the task of informing myself on these matters and will try to share my ongoing discoveries here. To date there isn't a lot of information available, but as the party candidacies and running mates are solidified, I expect more material to be presented.
What I've learned so far is that Panama has a multi-party system with extensive, involved smaller-party histories that I wouldn't endeavor to explore or describe at this time. Suffice it to say the following is an overview of the currently recognized political parties in Panama.
The Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) is the largest party, reporting 519,000 members as of September 2013. It was founded by general Omar Torrijos in 1979. It is social democrat in ideology.
Closely behind is the Partido Cambio Democrático, (CD) with 507,000 members. It was founded in 1998 by the current Panamanian President, Ricardo Martinelli. Its ideology is liberal conservative.
The Partido Panameñista (PP) has 246,000 members. It was founded in 1991 by Arnulfo Arias Madrid, and was the initial party of President Martinelli. Its ideology is conservative nationalist.
The Partido Molirena (MOLIRENA) has 117,000 members and a liberal nationalist ideology. It was founded around 1980 by leaders of several abolished smaller political parties that existed prior to 1968.
The Partido Popular (PP) boasts 24,000 members and is christian democrat in ideology. It was established in 2001 as a new denomination of the previously known Partido Demócrata Christiano.
The Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD) is a socialist progressive party that doesn't have parliamentary representation but is recognized by the Electoral Tribunal as a result of having 63,000 members.
Traditionally there have existed two major political forces that control parliamentary majority in Panama. The major political parties have found it necessary to establish alliances and coalitions in order to support their goals, get their representatives elected, and govern the country. These alliances are in the process of being formed now and are expected to be solidified by January 2nd, 2014. The alliances and their significance will be my next topic of investigation for future posts. Stay tuned!