Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 23:03:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Panama News
) Subject: The Panama News 5-15, editorial
Article: 69284
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Let Mireya govern

Panama News, Editorial, 13 July 1999

Call Toro's attempt to control road construction contracts, key personnel decisions and even taxi permits after his term ends hardball, if you like. However, remember two things: hardball also has its rules, and expedient actions taken now may come back as unwanted precedents later.

The late Dr. Arnulfo Arias probably didn't think that way on that January day in 1931 when he broke into the Palacio de las Garzas and put a gun to the head of President Florencio Arosemena, forcing him to resign. By most accounts Arosemena wasn't a good president, and Arnulfo's coup was ratified the next year by his brother Harmodio's election to the presidency. But several coups that followed were at Arnulfo's expense. His precedent repeatedly came back to haunt him for the rest of his life.

And so it may be with the PRD. It may seem like a neat trick to transfer many of the powers of a president-elect to hastily-created authorities whose directors are appointed by her lame duck predecessor. If the Supreme Court can be successfully stacked, Toro's friends may even be able to use that advantage, plus control of the next Legislative Assembly, to get away with their attack on democratic principles. It's more likely, however, to end up frustrating the PRD when the shoe winds up on the other foot, as it eventually will.

Even before that comes to pass, Toro's last-minute power grab may delay his party's return the presidency. The PRD will be stained in much the same way as Nicaragua's Sandinista Front, which has still never recovered the support it lost when its leaders showered themselves with public assets after losing the 1990 elections.

That probably doesn't matter to the president and his inner circle-if they didn't know that they were a spent political force, they'd have never attempted these ugly maneuvers. But for the PRD legislators, mayors and representantes who are looking toward the future, it's a matter of some importance to disassociate themselves from Toro's tantrum. For the sake of their own careers, and more importantly for the cause of Panamanian democracy, they need to find a compromise that lets the woman whom the voters chose exercise the presidency's full powers.