The General Election Planof the Electoral Tribunalof Panama / Eduardo Valdés Escoffery
The actions of the Electoral Tribunal are based on the pursuit of electoral excellence through education, training and ongoing technological innovation in order to provide efficient services to its users towards the improvement and strengthening of democracy, which consolidates it as the institution guarantor of freedom, honesty and efficiency of suffrage in Panama.
Given the great responsibility of TE framed under the rule of law, subject to compliance with the Constitution and the Law, there is the need for an innovative tool for planning, monitoring, control and evaluation of the electoral process in Panama. This instrument is the General Election Plan (PLAGEL) built by a team of collaborators that makes it possible to hold pure and transparent elections as a result of the mystical work nationally and internationally recognized.
Magistrate Vice President of the TE Eduardo Valdes Escoffery, with over twenty years’ experience in the institution, who also serves as director of PLAGEL, delves into the most important aspects of this tool in the electoral process in this interview.
EW: What is PLAGEL?
EVE: (PLAGEL) Stands for GENERAL ELECTION PLAN that is started as part of the planning for each election and is composed of a Magistrate who heads it, a liaison office headed by the Director and Deputy Director of Electoral Organization, and 25 work committees and 3 work subcommittees
with a responsible and co-responsible with their own team of collaborators, who independently of the day to day (work) develop at the same time specific tasks in connection with election organization. Each committee is responsible for one of the critical areas that should be planned and executed in order to enable the general election.
EW: When and how is PLAGEL conceived?
EVE: Since the first popular consultation, the constitutional referendum in 1992 and thereafter has been improved by introducing technological controls with the use of MS Project tool that allows to detail all the activities and sub activities of every committee and the planned date versus the actual dateof execution in order to have a clear picture of which committees are late, on time, or ahead in fulfilling their responsibilities.
EW: What is the importance of PLAGEL within the electoral process?
EVE: PLAGEL is a key tool for the responsible planning of such a delicate and important challenge as it is holding general elections, with guarantee for everyone involved, with transparency and avoiding negligence that may affect or could affect rights that must be exercised by all parties, candidates, and voters.
EW: Do you know of any similar initiatives in other countries of the Continent?
EVE: It is not called like that, but the same principle of planning, ordered by areas of responsibilities exists in other countries of the continent.
EW: The Electoral Tribunal has already started the General Election Plan, although the Electoral Reforms have not been approved in the National Assembly. What might be the consequences?
EVE: We are beginningall the activities in the committees that need to begin two years before the election and that would not be affected by the reforms. By May of this year, changes to the rules governing the contest in May 2014 should be well defined.
EW: The term of the Chief Justice of the TE will end in November, how could this situation affect the development of PLAGEL?
EVE: PLAGEL should not be affected if the Supreme Court does not re-elect Justice Solis, because with recent constitutional reforms of 2004 the country is prepared for that eventuality by staggering the terms of the current justices.
EW: How far in advance should PLAGEL begin?
EVE: Our PLAGEL starts two years before each general election and that is a feature only seen in Panama. I do not know of another country that begins executing a budget of elections to the magnitude of ours so early.Basically, because the voter registration closes one year prior to elections in order to prevent fraudulent changes of residence. Hence, from a year before the end of this periodbegins a campaign of updating and purging of the registry to allow sufficient time for all voters to verify that they are in the registry and in what polling place they appear and if it is the right one for them, according to their residence. We want to guarantee each voter the exercise of their right to vote.
EW: In how many stages is PLAGEL divided and what innovations do you envisaged for 2014?
EVE: Not all commissions are activated at the same time; they have their own schedule according to their responsibilities and the dates specified in the Election Code. There are statutory deadlines for the execution of each activity. There are deadlines for change of residence, to issue the preliminary registry, to contest changes of residence, to conduct hearings to resolve such disputes. There are deadlines for applying, processing and challengingnominations; deadlines for minors who will turn 18 until the day before the election to make their request for personal identification card.
There is a termto issue the final electoral roll and to issue the ballots;to recruit tens of thousands of people that will play a role on Election Day and the days before, and so on, even after the elections there are tasks to run until the electoral process is closed.
The innovations planned for 2014 are: early voting for all those who are not in the country or at their place of residence on Election Day because of their work, and a pilot electronic voting, with a very small number of tables in different parts of the country. We have also incorporated into PLAGEL, as a commission, the internal prioroverseeing control unit. We are preparing to develop software that allows parties to process via technology the nominations of candidates chosen in primaries.
EW: Does the Electoral Tribunal have a Budget to pay for PLAGEL? How much is it?
EVE: The approved budget for 2012 amounts to B/ 6,120,200.00 which is the amount requested.
EW: What have been the biggest challenges faced by the TE in recent years in the organization of general elections?
EVE: They remain the strict supervision of the fulfillment of all tasks by each of the committees because they are all related and the delays of some affectothers. To recruit and train tens of thousands of people in society to work on Election Dayis always a challenge. To ensure the timely availability of the entire vehicle fleet, of aircraft, helicopters and even horses in rural areas is another task that generates a lot of pressure.Achievingthe results are transmitted faster and safely imposes the adoption of new technologies. Identifying the vulnerabilities of our platform and taking corrective action is increasingly requiring more planning and more time.
EW: We are two years apart from the 2014 general election, what message does the Electoral Tribunal sends to the Panamanian people?
EVE: We must continue to demand of our deputies to approve the electoral reforms before May 2012 and to be vigilant against possible interference of the Supreme Court in electoral matters which is exclusive competence of the Electoral Tribunal, whose experience and credibility is what guarantees a peaceful electoral process, in which the vote may be exercised freely, honestly and efficiently as mandated by the Constitution.