Performance vs Personality
Tuesday night’s dustup between PRD candidate Balbina Herrera and Democratic Change candidate Ricardo Martinelli was neither full of soun...
Tuesday night’s dustup between PRD candidate Balbina Herrera and Democratic Change candidate Ricardo Martinelli was neither full of sound and fury, nor substance. Leading up to the country’s national election May 3rd, this was the first of two scheduled debates. Only the two frontrunners were present after former Panama president Guillermo Endara bowed out saying he didn’t want to be ‘a referee’.
The evening needed a referee. Or’ at least someone who had been in government who could challenge the promises of both candidates, who were pitifully short of concrete proposals.
The debate quickly degenerated into evasive, non-answers and polite name-calling. Balbina slipped in that Martinelli was an inexperienced, demagogue, whereas, she was an experienced woman who produced results. Refusing to take the bait, Martinelli, calmly, but effectively, reminded voters that Balbina’s government had five years, 4 ministers, and three police directors and Panama’s crime wave remains unabated. He concluded by saying change can only come from an outside independent such as himself.
The cost of living theme (about $260 monthly for food, only) was Balbina’s weakest moment. She alleged that supermarket chain owner (Super 99) Martinelli would not cut food prices because he owns supermarkets. She preached for a vague harmonization of government programs and better administration. Martinelli shrugged off the attack and pointed out that more government support was needed, especially in providing credit to agricultural producers.
Poor transportation services boiled down as to whether an above-ground monorail or a below-ground subway would be the best solution. Neither candidate presented a convincing argument. Even Balbina’s V-P candidate Navarro disagrees with the PRD plan.
The education and health themes brought out what little fire there was. Balbina stressed the education mess only needs better administration to correct itself (“it’s a simple problem”), not more demagoguery from her CD opponent. Martinelli, again, let the insult slide, and stressed that the education system needs reform from top to bottom.
What went wrong. Presidential candidate and former Panama President “Pichulo” Endara should have participated. His absence may have sealed his fate as merely a marginal candidate. Secondly, the journalists’ questions were mostly long, pontificating opinions. Next time, keep the questions much shorter.
Television viewers expected a matchup between the two “Ls”—“La Ladrona” vs. “El Loco”. Neither allegation is true. Balbina says her millions were all legal. And, Martinelli’s mental health, is guaranteed by his mother. Actually, the CD paid for a touching full-page newspaper ad where mom was pictured standing by her boy, saying, “He’s NOT crazy.”
In summary, this was a boring, respectable debate that attacked performance and personality. Balbina started off very uneasy and warmed up midway through the program. She speaks forcefully, using her arms and hands (mostly the left hand) to good effect, while Martinelli projects a stiff gravitas, using mostly his right hand sparingly to make points.
Both candidates invoked change and promised that their experience guarantees reform. Martinelli says five years of PRD mismanagement is the wrong experience. Balbina replies Martinelli’s experience as a millionaire grocer, means he will put his business interests first.
Will the debate stir up voter interest which has been polled at barely fifty percent? Not likely. But, at least, no shoes or beer cans were thrown at either candidate.