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Assessments of Pesident Varela's Administration and Achievements, and Proposed Referendum on Constitutional Changes

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Varela ends his term with a controversial proposal

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 19:49


It will take few time to finish the government of Juan Carlos Varela and after the controversy of the magistrates and their more than possible appointment under a new national leader, this Wednesday, the first working day of 2019, the president surprised everyone with the announcement of a consultation to reform the constitution, which has not been modified since 1972.

With a review of the achievements of his mandate, Varela said he will consult the magistrates on the possibility of this constitutional reform. "That the People decide if the necessary constitutional reforms are made through a parallel constituent assembly, an original or through traditional reforms through two assemblies," he said in his speech.

The letter, distributed to the media, details the call to integrate a Parallel Constituent Assembly applying the Article 134 of the current Constitution, with the intention of replacing the current one. In addition, it requests the Electoral Tribunal (ET) to indicate the most appropriate mechanism to convene the popular consultation.

The president of the Electoral Tribunal, Heriberto Araúz, warned that for the fifth ballot previously the parliament must dictate a law that includes the financing of its printing and that it has the month of January for it, so as not to affect the electoral calendar.

In the formal ceremony, the head of state did not hesitated to ask the representatives of the organs of the State, the deputies and the political forces to continue working, despite the differences.

"I am not unaware that the citizenship strongly questions this legislative body because of the way in which some of its members managed the resources assigned by the budget law, I hope that in this legislature the legitimate citizen demands for accountability and transparency can be satisfied", he mentioned.

Varela took the opportunity to highlight the Panamanian economy, which he described as the most dynamic and prosperous of the region. "We created the conditions to attract more than 20,000 million dollars of foreign investment and the State allocated 21,000 million dollars in investment that includes infrastructure projects, which generate employment and maintain the stability of the economy", he expressed.

Another point mentioned was the decrease in insecurity in his period, highlighting 37% or 1,113 fewer homicides compared to the previous five-year period under former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), of which he was vice president.

In the middle of his presentation, the strong custody and security presence of the SPI was what stood out most, in addition to a protest close to the National Assembly.

Although Varela indicated that during these 4 and a half years there was no appropriate environment to fulfill his promise of constitutional reform, now it is urgent "to order the country, dismantle the criminal structure, face media attacks with indications of links to cases of corruption. It consumed more energy than we thought would be necessary, so I did not feel that the environment was conducive to fulfill the promise to give the people a new Constitution through the parallel constituent", justified Varela.

That is why, he stated, that "the supreme power belongs to the people, that the people decide and that it is the voice of the people the one that choose the path to continue stepping on the tracks of progress, peace and equity to this great nation and it would be ideal it should be done on May 5, 2019".

The Parallel Constituent Assembly shall have a period of not less than six months or more than nine months to deliver to the Electoral Tribunal the new constitutional text, which shall be submitted to a referendum in a period of not less than three months and not longer than 6 months.

Before this proposal, the Electoral Tribunal (ET) warned that "there has to be an initiative of the Executive Body with the Cabinet Council addressed to the Assembly, for the Parliament to approve a Law, and once it is affirmed, the Executive must endow to the ET with the necessary resources to include an additional ballot, and they only have until January for this".

While looks like a viable measure, members of opposition parties Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), Cambio Democrático (CD) and the leftist Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD) rejected the consultation to use a mechanism to reform the Constitution in the elections of May 5 proposed by the government.

"Varela insists on an initiative that seeks to disturb the electoral process and delivered an absurd and contradictory note to the Electoral Tribunal (ET) on the inclusion of the additional ballot in the May elections, with the aggravation of pretending that the consultation contemplates a method outside the Constitution", said the PRD.

"It strikes us that the president, in the midst of the electoral process, comes out once again with the idea of a fifth ballot, is nothing more than a trick politicking measure", said the party founded by former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), Democratic Change (CD).

One of the antecedents of this proposal in other countries is the National Constituent Assembly formed in Venezuela in 2017, which repealed from the legislative power the original National Assembly almost by force, in doubtful elections and in the face of the refusal of a large part of the international community.



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Tortoise approach death knell for key election promise

Delivering final report with a non-starter
Post Views: 236
President Juan Carlos Varela was nicknamed “The Tortoise” early on  in his term  and his slow moves on a key election promise have likely ensured its demise 

He earned the title for his perceived slowness in making decisions, although for some it was expanded to the Flying Tortoise  because of his frequent trips to faraway places producing  few results although his visits to the Vatican delivered World Youth Day  (WYD)  to Panama, which will stretch the country’s resources  and which critics claim is absorbing more of his attention than matters like  the Constituent Assembly he promised the country five years ago.

During his final report to the nation, delivered at the strife-torn National Assembly this week he revived the Constituent Assembly promise and called for a public referendum through a ballot during the May 5 elections.

The last-minute add on got little support from major political parties and was described by some as a tactic to divert attention from unfulfilled promises, while others suggested he was more focused on WYD than the challenges facing the country including corruption the judiciary and divisions between lawmakers the executive and civil society.

The magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal (TE) moving  more swiftly than the  Aesop character reacted on  Thursday to a note from Varela on the feasibility of a non binding  plebiscite: “The only possibility” of including an additional ballot in the next elections would be through the approval of a bill in the National Assembly.”

The presiding judge of the TE, Heriberto Araúz, explained in a letter to the President that the Cabinet would have to approve the legislative initiative through resolution and authorize the respective minister to be presented before the Plenary of the Assembly.

In the note that to the TE, the president asked what would be the most appropriate way to call a Consultation by means of Executive Decree, a new Cabinet Resolution or a Cabinet Resolution based on previously approved law.

Araúz warned that in the month of January it would be had to approve a law that allows them to include it. The Electoral Code added Araúz, does not allow an additional ballot for a plebiscite or a consultation of this nature.



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Varela pushes for referendum as opposition grows

Juan Carlos Varela
Post Views: 208
Opposition to adding a connotational referendum question to the May election continues to mount but President Juan Carlos Varela, reiterated on Wednesday, hat it is the opportunity for citizens to choose the path they consider best to achieve a new democratic and legal framework.

According to the president, the “partisan political agenda seems to be above the Nation’s agenda”, so “the opportunity that is given to citizens with a citizen’s consultation is important”.

Varela, who in the dying days of his presidency is  struggling to fulfill a campaign promise believes that  “if approved by the Legislative Assembly – which I think would be the right thing – the people will choose the path to give themselves a new democratic and legal framework that will allow them to move forward after nearly 30 years of our young democracy “.

When questioned on having presented the initiative for a bill that would allow the general election on May 5

to have an additional ballot, where voters can decide whether or not to amend the Constitution,

Varela said  it was done because “now is when almost 3 million taxpayers go out to vote, it is time to listen to the people, that when they vote is when they speak”, he said Varela added that the decision made by the people will not be binding for this  government or the next, but the path for “the next elected leaders of the people.”



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