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Year 1 No. 3 September - December 2008

The Electoral Reforms and the participation of the woman in Panama: challenges and dares - Magíster Ceila Peñalba Ordóñez

Magíster Ceila Peñalba Ordóñez
Secretary General of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama



Secretary General of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama, with 18 years of service in this institution, in which she has also worked as National Deputy Director of the Civil Registry;

Sub-Secretary General of the institution; Institutional Executive Director, a.i. She graduated from the School of Law and Political Sciences of the University of Panama;

Post Graduates in Law from universities of the Federative Republic of Brazil, and Masters in Procedural Law from the Universidad Latina de Panamá.

In the last fifteen years, women have contributed with their work inside political parties, and this way they have managed their nomination to hold a position of popular election.  Their interest and struggle to include in the electoral law a guarantee that would allow them to be nominated for positions of election within their political parties has been a constant.

In the Republic of Panama, the year 1992 indicates the antecedent of the gender topic when Dr. Gloria Moreno de López, by then Legislator of the Republic, formally presented a legislative proposal known as "system of quotas", or "minimum percentage of female political participation" to the positions of popular election within political parties. 

In that opportunity, the mentioned legislative proposal did not have the support to become a law of the Republic.

Not less important was the effort demonstrated by the National Forum of Women of Political Parties, constituted in June 1993. 

Subsequently, in April of 1997, the organization demonstrated by this Forum by, among others, holding the Seminar- Workshop "Analysis and Position on the electoral quotas", with the participation of the Argentine Senator Olijela Del Valle Rivas and the Costa Rican Legislator Marlene Gómez Calderón both pioneers of the electoral quotas in their respective countries, who presented their experiences on the development and effectiveness of the topic electoral quotas. 

With all this setting, the convenience of establishing the minimum base percentage included in Latin American legislation, which fluctuated from 50% to 30% was discussed.

Continuing with its fight, the National Forum of Women of Political Parties suggests proposing to the Legislative Assembly, through the legislators and members of this Forum Mariela Jiménez and Maritza Royo de Bermúdez, to include a proposal for the recognition of a 50% of electoral quotas in the electoral reforms being discussed at this Body of the State.

Having reviewed these antecedents, we will now discuss the development of female participation throughout the diverse reforms to the Electoral Code, and the results obtained in the 1999 and 2004 electoral processes.  We will analyze first the content of the reform; then the female participation in the nominations accepted by the Electoral Tribunal, and finally the electoral results obtained by women. 

1. - Electoral Reform of 1997

Law 22 of July 14, 1997, by means of which reforms to the Electoral Code were approved, incorporates for the first time to our legislation the aspect of female participation or system of quotas or positive actions. 

Essentially, in 1997 it was established that in the internal elections political parties would try that at least 30% of the candidates aspiring to positions within the party or to nominations for positions of popular election would be women.

However, the effectiveness of the previous provision of law was neutralized upon including another norm which established that:  "In those cases in which female participation is inferior to the amount established in this norm, the political parties will be able to fill them with another member who aspires to the respective position of election". 

We indicate that the effectiveness of the recognition of the minimum of 30% was neutralized, given that, in that reform of the electoral law, was not included what mechanism or internal authority of the party would watch for indicating the criteria that would be used for objectively verifying that the female participation was not inferior than the minimum percentage established in the norm. 

Another aspect emphasized in the 1997 Electoral Code reform, was to have instituted, also for the first time, the direct state subsidy (public financing) to the political parties and independent candidates. 

Regarding female participation, it was agreed that of the amount of state subsidy received by political parties for training, equivalent to 25% of the respective annuity, 10% had to be allocated for the training of women. 

Now, let us take a look at the results of the general elections of May 2, 1999 in consideration to the compliance of the previous norms, regarding nominations and proclamations. 

For the general elections of 1999, 763 principal positions and 910 alternates were in dispute, as detailed below:

* Central American Parliament

The grand total of formal and accepted nominations originating form political parties and independent postulation was 10,057. 

Of the grand total of 10,057 nominations, 4,670 accounted for principal positions.  Of those, only 626 were female nominations equivalent to 13%. 

Likewise, of the 5,387 nominations for alternate positions, only 1,022 were for female candidates, which corresponded to 19%.   From this comparison, we conclude that 81% of the election positions corresponded to male nominations.  

In the following table, we will see the breakdown by type of position in which women were nominated and in fact participated as candidates in the elections of May 2, 1999:


Once the votes of the May 2, 1999 were counted, the proclamations obtained by women were as follows:

In summary, of the great total of 763 principal positions of women nominated in 1999, 85 were elected.  Whereas of the 910 alternate positions of women nominated, only 136 won. 


Thus, of the proclamations done in 1999, 11% corresponded to women in main positions, and 89% to men.  And in the alternate positions, 15% corresponded to women and 85% to men. 


Nevertheless, with only a few positions reached by the female gender, one must emphasize that for the first time in our Republican life, the top position submitted to popular election was won precisely by a woman.


2. - Electoral Reform of 2002

By means of Law 60 of 17 December 2002, reforms to the Electoral Code were once again approved. 


With regards to female participation, the regulation remained as it was since 1997; whereupon we will analyze what actually happened in the general elections of May 2, 2004. 


For the general elections of 2004, 800 principal positions and 954 alternates were at stake, detailed as follows:

The grand total of nominations formalized and accepted by the Electoral Tribunal, both from political parties and independent postulation, adding principals and alternates was 12,124. 


Of that grand total, 5,561 accounted for principal positions, and hardly 746 of those were women nominated for the positions, which represented 13.41% of said nominations. 


In equal form, for the 6,563 accepted nominations for alternate position, 1,163 accounted for women, which were translated into 17.72% of these nominations. 


Let us see the breakdown of the numbers with respect to nominated women who actually participated as candidates in the general elections of May 2, 2004: 


However, the proclamations obtained by women in those elections of May 2, 2004, were of the following order: 

In summary, of the grand total of 800 disputed main positions, 86 women were proclaimed; 10.75% of women in the principal positions of popular election. 


Whereas of the 954 disputed substitute positions at stake, only 157 women were proclaimed, indicative of 16.45% of women in alternate positions. 


3. - Electoral reform of 2006  


Law 60 of 29 December 2006 approved reforms to the Electoral Code.


It maintains 30% as the minimum quota for the nomination of women for candidacies within the party or nominations to positions of popular election, as well as the benefit that from the 25%, political parties should guarantee a minimum percentage of 10% exclusively for the development of activities for the training of women


Innovations introduced in the 2006 reform 2006 on the subject in reference:


a. - Article 237 establishes for the first time that "the political parties have the obligation to communicate to the Electoral Tribunal the results of their primary elections within fifteen working days after the firm proclamation, with the quantity and the percentage of member participation.  Received the Proclamation, the Electoral Tribunal will publish it in the Electoral Bulletin within the next five (5) working days". 


The article indicated, in agreement with article 92 of the new electoral law, establishes the obligation of political parties to create an authority within the party responsible for conducting the internal election process. It also establishes the duty to identify the authority of the party responsible for deciding impugnations and the instances within the party that should be exhausted prior to resorting before the Electoral Tribunal.  Consequently, it should be presumed, that when the political party communicates to the Electoral Tribunal the results of its election processes, the impugnations within the political party have been properly resolved. This notwithstanding the possibility that the member affected by the decision can resort before the Electoral Tribunal within ten (10) working days following the date in which the internal process of the party be exhausted.


b. - Paragraph 3 of article 239, establishes that "in the cases in which the female participation, verified by the Female Secretariat of the Party, is inferior to the percentage established in this norm, the political parties will be able to complete them with other contenders to the respective positions". 


Finally, it establishes which internal organism of the party is going to control and give faith that in fact, the re are not enough nominations of women to comply with the minimum percentage established.  In addition, it is evident in the norm, that it is necessary to create, via statute in each political party, a Female Secretariat in the cases of political parties which do not contemplate it.  Likewise, that this Female Secretariat fulfills the function of guarding that the procedures regarding the call for participation of its members, as well as the rules for participation, are in conditions of equality.


Even with these legal guarantees, the expectation remains, undoubtedly, which is the subject for another article on this theme, regarding what will happen in the next electoral tournament of May 3, 2009, where once again, the leading role of the female gender will be evident in the support that the political parties offer them to internally formalize nominations in principal positions, as well as the citizen's role that will have the power to elect from the list of male and female candidates who are nominated to the electoral tournament.