The United States attempt to oust Noriega had failed. Despite his increasing international isolation and lack of popular support, Noriega had survived, and, against all odds, the battered economy had not collapsed.
In the spring of 1989, political activity in Panama focused on preparations for the presidential election set for May 7, 1989. Progovernment parties--the PRD, Labor and Agrarian Party (Partido Laborista Agrario--PALA), Republican Party (Partido Republicano--PR), National Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Nacional--PLN), and several other small parties--had formed a new electoral coalition, the National Liberation Coalition (Coalición de Liberación Nacional--COLINA). COLINA's slate of candidates, announced in early February 1989, included Carlos Alberto Duque Jaén of the PRD for president, Ramon Sieiro Murgas of PALA for first vice president; and Aquilino Boyd, the government's ambassador to the Organization of American States, for second vice president. All three were widely regarded as staunch Noriega supporters: Duque, a business partner of Noriega; Sieiro, Noriega's brother-in law; and Boyd, a Noriega regime loyalist. Opposing the government coalition were three major opposition parties--the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrato Cristiano--PDC), National Liberal Republican Movement (Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacional--MOLIRENA), and Authentic Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Auténtico--PLA), which had banded together in a coalition known as the Civic Democratic Opposition Alliance (Alianza Democrática de Oposición Cívica--Civic ADO or ADOC). Civic ADO also had the support of the crusade (CCN), the small Popular Action Party (Partido de Acción Popular--PAPA), and a dissident faction of the Authentic Panameñista Party (Partido Panameñista Auténtico--PPA), which had split after the death of Arias Madrid in August 1988. When the Electoral Tribunal gave official recognition and control of the party to a small faction headed by Hildebrando Nicosia Pérez, who had broken with Arias Madrid in the mid-1980s, the majority faction, led by Guillermo Endara, left the PPA and formed the Arnulfist Party. The Arnulfist Party threw its considerable weight behind Civic ADO, and its leader, Guillermo Endara, was put forward as Civic ADO's presidential candidate. In addition to Endara, Civic ADO's electoral slate included Ricardo Arias Calderón of the PDC for first vice president and Guillermo Ford of MOLIRENA for second vice president. The official PPA refused to join either coalition, preferring to run its own slate of candidates headed by Nicosia for president.
Observers predicted that the government-sponsored candidates would prevail. The Noriega regime was widely expected to ensure the victory of its candidates through a combination of electoral fraud and pre-electoral tactics designed to intimidate and divide the opposition. Indeed, the opposition claimed that thousands of names of opposition party supporters had already disappeared from the lists of eligible voters. Moreover, in the period leading up to the election, the Noriega regime was reportedly using its control of the three-member Electoral Tribunal to capitalize on internal divisions in legitimate opposition parties. In disputes over party leadership, the tribunal had consistently ruled in favor of minority factions presumed more loyal to Noriega, most notably in the case of the PPA. Analysts regarded such rulings as attempts to "steal" these opposition parties and undercut their electoral strength. Some observers even postulated that Nicosia had purposely split the PPA in order to create a rift in the opposition, reduce support for Civic ADO, and enhance the electoral prospects of COLINA.
The pre-electoral period in Panama was a tense one not only with respect to internal Panamanian politics but also with respect to relations between Panama and the United States. In addition to its political machinations, the Noriega regime's continued harassment of Americans in Panama, incursions onto United States military facilities, hostile propaganda, and charges of violations of the Panama Canal treaties exacerbated the already poor relations between the two countries. Observers believed that the future tone and direction of the relationship would be determined to a large extent by the outcome of the May 1989 election. The United States would face difficult policy decisions over how to react to the expected electoral fraud; what to do about the economic sanctions, which were unpopular and ineffective but still officially in place; and how to handle the turn-over of directorship of the Panama Canal Commission to a Panamanian in 1990, given the high probability of an undemocratic and hostile regime in Panama.
Panama itself faced an uncertain future. Although victory for pro-Noriega forces seemed assured in the short term, in the longer term they were expected to confront increasing regional and international isolation, continued United States opposition, and, most seriously, bleak economic prospects because of the dramatic drop in GDP and government income and the equally drastic rise in capital flight and unemployment. The once vital Panamanian economy was a shambles, and its future looked grim, indeed.
SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress