From the National Editor. Jorge Bravo
He is the Deputy Director of Information and Public Relations of the Electoral Tribunal and national editor of the magazine Electoral World.
He has worked in the media in the written press, television and the radio. He has been coordinator and presenter of radio and television news.
From 1994-1999 was the journalist-editor of the Presidency of the Republic's press office. He is the author of articles for newspapers and magazines.
Since 1990 has worked in the public administration in charge of the press office of several government agencies.
To describe in only one thousand words the organization of a complete electoral process of a country in which its main authorities are chosen is not an easy task; however I will try to do in this space.
In my more than two decades as a professional of the media, I have covered a few general elections, but had never participated in its organization; reason why I can say with all property, that one thing is to watch the bulls from the barrier and another very different to be in the bullring.
The organization of the general elections in Panama begins with more than two years of anticipation and it is carried out with the precision of a Swiss clock, as states magistrate Eduardo Valdés Escoffery.
The disclosure of the whole process is a fundamental task and it is done through a campaign undertaken by an advertising agency under the supervision of the magistrates and the Direction of Public Relations of the Electoral Tribunal (TE for its Spanish acronym). It is developed in four large components:
* Updating, purging and verification of the Electoral Roll.
* Recruitment of the electoral officers
* Citizen participation and
From there that one of the first steps is the preparation of the public bid to choose the advertising agency that will be in charge of the campaign of disclosure and information of the whole electoral process. For the elections of May 3, 2009 this step was initiated on February 2007 and ended on July 3, 2007 with the official launch of the campaign.
In this date also is activated the General Plan of Elections, known by its Spanish acronym as PLAGEL, comprise of 23 commissions and 14 regional directions of the TE in charge of the delicate task of the planning, organization and implementation of the electoral tournament. The commissions are activated according to a calendar of activities properly planned and based on the electoral law, under the direction of a coordinator and a general director. The first is the Director of Electoral Organization and the later is the Magistrate Vice President of the TE Eduardo Valdés Escoffery.
Throughout the whole process, the 23 commissions gather periodically (each 2 or 3 months at first, then monthly) to review the advances and projections in each one of their tasks and to seek solutions for the problems found.
As a result of the last electoral reforms, two new commissions were created within PLAGEL; the Overseas Vote Commission, and the Vote in Hospitals, Elderly Homes and Prisons Commission.
For this electoral period, the 2009 PLAGEL was designed based in three stages:
1. 2007 (Institutional Preparation)
2. 2008 (Electoral Organization)
3. 2009 (Implementation)
1. Institutional Preparation or Planning Period (2007):
The Updating and Purging of the Electoral Registry Program begins (July 7, 2007), because the electoral roll by legal mandate must close a year before the elections, on April 30, 2008. Hundreds of electoral officers go to the communities, house by house nationwide to fulfill this first task.
In no other country such an intense and exhaustive purging of the electoral roll is done as in Panama, states proudly the Magistrate President of TE, Erasmo Pinilla C.
Linked to this phase the change of domicile period is opened, that gives the voters the opportunity to appear in the electoral roll of the place where they should really vote. And the fact is that according to one of the 2006 reforms to the Electoral Code, one can only vote in the place of habitual residence, and to register elsewhere (practice which contributed in the past to blemish the elections) is a crime.
In this stage, likewise, the Voting Centers Commission initiates its work to review the need to create or to eliminate voting centers and to locate them as close as possible to the residence of the voter (in Panama the domiciliary vote is practiced).
2. Electoral Organization Period (2008):
Upon concluding the updating and purging of the Electoral Roll, and upon closing the period for changes of residence (April 30, 2008), they hearings began in the month of August, for which the magistrates of the TE travel nationwide to resolve the impugnations against changes of residence that are faulty or inconsistent with the habitual residence of the voter.
In this phase the Commission of Joint Tours is in charge of planning, coordinating and monitoring the tours that Electoral Organization, the ID Department and the Civil Registry carry on in areas of difficult access to offer the services of inscription of vital facts and processing of ID.
Likewise, the Recruitment Commission, responsible for finding the human resource with the profile required in electoral matter; and the Impugnation and Appointments Commission that coordinates with the regional directorates the procedure for the challenges to the Preliminary Electoral Roll are activated.
Upon finalizing the hearings period, the Preliminary Electoral Roll is developed and is immediately deliver to the political parties by means of official act on May 28, two days before the date established in the electoral calendar.
In this second phase takes place one of the main acts of the process: the call to elections (December 3, 2008), that according to the Electoral Code must be done a month before the opening of the electoral process. At the same time and in the same act the National Board of Scrutiny is sworn in.
3. Implementation Period (2009):
In this stage the country is already in the heat of the electoral year. On January 3 the electoral process is opened with the appointment of candidates to the different positions of popular election. The coordination of the security logistics for the electoral corporations and for the transparent and peaceful development of the elections nationwide begins with the agencies of public security (the National Police, the Judicial Investigations Department -DIJ for its Spanish acronym-, the Fire Department, the National Air Service, and the National Maritime Service).
Likewise, the training to permanent and temporary electoral officials that are required to work in the voting tables and scrutiny boards on Election Day begins; as well as the training to the candidates and to the representatives of the political parties.
Also the necessary actions for the logistics of the air and local transportation of the international guests and observers for Election Day begin.
The statistics of the general elections of May 3, 2009 are prepared and the first broadcast of results drill is carried out.
In turn, the Commission of Impugnations and Appointments works arduously in the impugnations to the Preliminary Electoral Roll and in the appointments for the positions of popular election.
On January 31, by means of official act, closed the appointment of candidates by internet, and on February 2 officially concluded the period for the appointment of candidates. In that same date and a day before what is stated in the electoral calendar, the Electoral Tribunal delivered the Final Electoral Roll to the political parties and independent candidates.
Panama is one of the few countries if not the only one with a system that allows the appointment of candidates by Internet. Said modality was premiered in this country in the 2004 elections when 97% of the appointments were made through internet.
The system of appointments by internet contributes to expedite the process and to avoid the long lines that used to fill the installations of the TE. The mechanism is simple: the political parties must file a request for the service to the TE indicating the number of users, their addresses and the equipment they have. The TE indicates the requirements for the appointment by internet and if the equipment complies, a security certificate is installed. For the appointment, the user must include the ID number, the position, circumscription and nickname of the candidate. Subsequently, the process must be finalized by formally filling a petition that supports the candidacy; finally, the TE issues a resolution accepting or rejecting the appointment if it does not comply with the requirements that the law demands.
Upon the appointment of the positions of popular election, the elections are in its final stage, but first the magistrates must resolve, by means of public hearings, the impugnations to the appointments of any position at stake.
In this stage the advertising campaign is in its penultimate phase: Civic Participation and Motivation in the general elections, and everything related to the installation of the Press Center where the National Board of Scrutiny will proclaim the new President of the Republic on May 3, 2009 is organized.
The installation of the Press Center is also an arduous task, where every detail is taken into account since this is the place that concentrates the attention of the whole country on Elections Day.
Because the novelty of the overseas vote will take place for the first time in the country, we cannot ignore the installation, on March 3 of the electoral corporations (voting table) that will handle the overseas vote that in the case of Panama will be done by certified mail.
On April 3 the TE announced the location of all the scrutiny boards and April 30 is the deadline for the closing of campaign of the political parties. With the transfer of the police (April 27) to the Electoral Tribunal and the alcoholic drinks prohibition law (May 2), the country prepares for the celebration of the great democratic celebration.
One thousand words do not suffice to describe the organization of a whole electoral process, especially one like the Panamanian where the people has to choose their main authorities that will govern the destinies of the nation by the next five years; and in which the Electoral Tribunal, since 1990 makes the best effort to assure peaceful, democratic, and transparent Elections in Panama as they are already internationally recognized.