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Government, Political Parties

Perez Balladares, Mireya Moscoso, Arnulfo Arias Madrid, United People, independent foreign policy

Panama’s parties traditionally revolve around the personalities of their leaders, rather than philosophies or organizations. As such, they operate in an unpredictable, discontinuous fashion. During the last 50 years, about half a dozen parties have achieved real prominence, while a dozen more have come and gone. As elections approach, peripheral parties usually fold into coalitions with stronger ones in order to win favors. Many parties were not founded until the 1990s , because the military leaders who took power in 1968 banned politics for more than a decade.

The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) won the 1994 election, with its presidential candidate, Perez Balladares, receiving 33 percent of the vote. With the Labor Party (PALA) and the Liberal Republic Party (PLR or LIBRE), it formed an alliance known as the United People, which holds a slim majority in the Legislative Assembly. The PRD was founded in 1978 by civilian collaborators of Torrijos to give his rule political legitimacy. It selected candidates for all major offices and easily dominated elections while the military was in power. The PRD was removed from power by the 1989 U.S. invasion and was thought to be destroyed, but it made a surprising recovery. An urban party, it draws its strongest support from government employees, labor unions, and the educational system.

The Arnulfista Party was founded in 1936 as the Panamenista Party by Arnulfo Arias Madrid. As the name suggests, it took its direction from its longtime leader. Although its policies varied, it usually emphasized nationalism, an independent foreign policy, and help for Panama’s working classes. The party was centrist and drew its strongest support from provinces outside the metropolitan area. Arias’s widow, Mireya Moscoso de Gruber, took over the party and ran for president in 1994, coming in second. In 1999 Moscoso was elected president, the first woman to win that office in Panama's history.

The Christian Democratic Party (PDC) led the opposition to the military in the 1980s, under the leadership of Ricardo Arias Calderon. The party made a poor showing in 1994, keeping only one seat in the assembly. It is regarded as the closest Panama has to a European-style party, with a defined ideology, a membership base, support from international Christian Democratic parties, and elections for party leaders. It is generally concerned with social programs, health, and education, and is nationalistic but favors close ties with the United States.

Other noted parties include Papa Egoro, a reform group founded by well-known Panamanian singer and actor Ruben Blades, and the National Liberal Republic Movement (MOLIRENA). Blades ran for president in 1994 and finished third, gaining support among young people and the urban poor by promising to improve conditions for the poor, clean up corrupt politics, protect the environment, and encourage the common people to participate in government. MOLIRENA, made up of traditional politicians, represents wealthy families who wish to exert political influence, and most members are government employees favored by these families. Its proposals are generally pro-business.



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