Sunday, August 27, 2006

Shell game referendum

Shell game referendum

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

The scent of immorality rises every day stronger from everything that surrounds the so-called "expansion project," and to this now must be added the daily thunderbolts of fraud coming from the Electoral Tribunal. The referendum set for October 22 is by all measures unconstitutional, illegal and illegitimate.

It's clear that any recourse to the Supreme Court is, as a practical matter, an illusion. The proponents and promoters of corrupt canal expansion proposal know this, and thus they are not missing any trick to orchestrate the fraud that has been brewing since the approval of the 2004 constitutional reforms.

So it's not a coincidence that the "vacationers" of the Electoral Tribunal chose the second week of August to meet in Panama with some 60 members of electoral institutions from 24 countries for the VIII Conference of the Inter-American Union of Electoral Institutions, sponsored by nothing more and nothing less than the Center for Electoral Assistance and Promotion (CAPEL), of the Inter-American Human Rights Institute (IIDH). The purpose was more than met the eye: to misspend public funds --- without prior approval --- on an event that only aims to apply makeup to the image of the local election organization, which has by now displayed all of its paraphernalia to carry the referendum for Martín's and Lalo's "¡Sí se puede!" camp.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted in October of 2001 by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States at an extraordinary session in Lima, Peru, establishes in its Article 7 that "Democracy is indispensable for the effective exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights in their universality, indivisibility and interdependence, embodied in the respective constitutions of states and in inter-American and international human rights instruments." These considerations are of absolutely no importance to the regents of the Electoral Tribunal and this is corroborated by the decisions that the electoral court has issued about the referendum, which have vacated the democratic environment in which a consultative process belongs.

Maurice Duverger, in his work "Instituciones Políticas y Derecho Constitucional," defines for us the procedures of semi-direct democracy as a species of collaboration among the citizens and their representatives.

Later on he points out that "The citizens can also intervene about a decision taken or prepared by their representatives. The most current procedure in that case is the referendum. The representatives (parliament or government) prepare a text, about which all citizens are called to pronounce by universal suffrage. If they accept it, the text is turned into law; if they reject it, the text does not apply." Ernesto Rey Cantor, in his work "Referéndum y plebiscito," for his part tells us that "The referendum, in its broader sense, it the participation of the citizenry in the approval of a political constitution, or its reform, or of a law, or of an administrative act, its provisions drafted by the government, or the parliament, or a constituent assembly, or a triumphant revolution, with the aim of politically organizing themselves by means of a vote. In its restricted sense, it's the citizens' participation in the approval or repeal of a regulatory text, by means of suffrage."

The management of the referendum as if it were dealing the election of public officials is fully intended to denaturalize the power of citizen participation, to atomize the citizens' constituent power and to take in hand the anti-democratic instruments that will permit a result that accords with the interests and personal agendas of those currently in power. Otherwise, how do you explain the establishment of 41 electora circuits, if it's a national consultation? What are the more than 4,200 polling stations for if it's only a matter of casting a "yes" or "no" vote? What's the basis of the selection of the ballot colors? Why the idiot or siamese ballots, if all the UN technical guides about a referendum establish that, for this type of consultation, there must be separate "yes" and "no" ballots in which no box needs to be marked?

It becomes urgent, then, for us citizens to take action, by all civic means at our disposal, to unmask the fraud that Martín and his clique are orchestrating through the Electoral Tribunal, and keep them from accomplishing their goals of expansion and re-election. We must demand compliance with all of the democratic prerequisites of any popular consultation, which separate the ballots, which exclude the political parties from the voting stations. From now on whe have to prepare ourselves to go to the polls and guard our will so that the same people who have orchestrated other frauds don't get away with it again.

We must, as a people, repeat the lesson we gave them, despite everything, in 1992 and 1998, a red tide of a gigantic "no," which will stop them from getting away with it.

Miguel Antonio Bernal is a law professor at the University of Panama, host of the Alternativa radio show and its new website, president of the Colegio de Abogados Honor Tribunal (the national bar association's disciplinary committee), a member of the Violet Legion (an honor society of intellectuals named by French presidents) for his work as correspondent for Le Monde Diplomatique and a noted Panamanian human rights activist.


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