The tortuous route to electoral reform

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PANAMA’S  PRESIDENT, Juan Carlos Varela is regularly caricatured as a tortoise, as he ponders at length before making decisions.

It was a tendency underscored by ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, who wrongly characterized Varela’s decision-making process as laziness and turfed him from the role of Foreign Minister.

Varela’s wife, Lorena Castillo is reported to have said in an interview before he took office that when asked to pass the salt during a meal,  Varela, an engineer, would pause while studying the best route, before making his move.

There are stories abounding of newly created Panamanian citizens waiting for months for the presidential signature to confirm their status.

The think-long-and-well before-you-act syndrome has long permeated Panama’s  justice system, which may help to explain why ex-president Ricardo Martinelli is still roaming free in Miami with over a dozen criminal investigations against him lying becalmed.

Initiatives in the National Assembly also tend to lack the wind in their sails when they contain items that reflect on the wellbeing or perks  of the lawmakers.

On Tuesday this week reforms to the Electoral Code were approved in the third and final debate after 15 months.

But before rushing to celebrate the changes citizens have to consider that the wind gusts have yet to reach other arms of the establishment.

After the approval, Electoral  Tribunal (TE) Judge Heriberto Araúz announced that they will not yet make a statement on the reforms.

“There were several adjustments made in the second debate and we have to sit down to make a very thoughtful and calm reading of the document, and then the TE  will issue a public opinion and a statement to the nation about our official position,” said Araúz.

He said that the only thing he can say is that the project seems to represent a positive step forward, although the final version is different from what was endorsed by the National Commission of Electoral Reforms.

Prior to the third debate, Araúz said, they had a meeting with several deputies, because there were concerns about some of the reforms.

They are now awaiting the signature of President Varela  … Pass the salt.

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