A ruling party propaganda task force called “The Gladiators” has been formed to counteract “baseless negative campaigns” from the opposition.
The move has been mocked by some and treated with concern by others.
Former president Mireya Moscoso and retired Gen. Ruben Dario Paredes believe that Democratic Change (CD) should reverse its decision to form the group, Vice President and President of the Panamenista Party Juan Carlos Varela, called it "a joke".
Moscoso found that the formation of the team was "unnecessary" because Panama is a democracy which guarantees freedom of expression and Panamanians can say what they feel. "These movements are reminiscent of a past that we not want to remember," she told La Prensa.
But the ruling party argues that the task force is "in order".
Retired Gen. Paredes said that with the creation of the "Gladiators", it seems that the Martinelli government "is preparing to conduct an election not serene, quiet and peaceful, but with confrontation between political parties and groups, in an electoral war."
The actions evoke the past during the dictatorship of Manuel Antonio Noriega, when these groups were known as "toads", and half the city was paid to spy on their neighbors and take messages to headquarters said Paredes.
Vice President Varela derided the group which has been trained by the state communications secretary, Luis Eduardo Camacho. “It is” he said, "a farce directed by a clown."
He added that the government spends more than $70 million in advertising to improve the image of the president and his ministers, so that "the people have the view that the country is on the right track. It also diverted many funds to “bad dealings and partisan politics," he said.
Asked, about a possible alliance between his party and the Democratic Revolutionary Party(PRD) Varela said that "there are sectors within that group that are inclusive to our movement with a vision of the state who will fight for the people.
“There are sectors that could support us, but structurally and institutionally, the parties have historical differences, so that we will compete in the elections. "
Varela said he hopes the Supreme Court will not make a mistake that would cost democracy when choosing the new Electoral Court judge.