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Panama’s president proposes constitutional convention

President Juan Carlos Varela waves at supporters during the fifth ordinary period of sessions in the National Assembly, in Panama City, Panama. Jan. 2, 2019. EPA-EFE/Bienvenido Velasco

President Juan Carlos Varela waves at supporters during the fifth ordinary period of sessions in the National Assembly, in Panama City, Panama. Jan. 2, 2019. EPA-EFE/Bienvenido Velasco

EFE

President Juan Carlos Varela on Wednesday asked Panama’s Electoral Tribunal to make room on the ballot for the May 5 elections a question on convening an assembly to draft a new constitution for the Central American nation.

“Let the people decide whether the necessary constitutional reforms are to be made via a parallel Constituent Assembly,” he told Congress in the final state of the union address of his term.

The head of state said that the delay in fulfilling his campaign promise to push for a complete constitutional reform was due to the fact that “in the last four years a favorable environment did not exist” for doing so.

“Getting the country in order, dismantling the criminal structure, dealing with media attacks with evidence of links to corruption cases - that consumed more energy than we thought would be necessary. So, I didn’t feel that the environment was conducive to fulfilling the promise to give the people a new constitution,” he said.

The chief judge of the Electoral Tribunal, Heriberto Arauz, said Wednesday that the National Assembly has only the month of January to approve a law to include the constitutional question on the ballot in May.

The Panamanian Constitution, enacted in 1972 during the rule of Gen. Omar Torrijos, establishes that a Constitutional Assembly must be convened by the Electoral Tribunal at the request of Congress or after a successful referendum.

Once the proposal is accepted, the Electoral Tribunal has not less than three months and no longer than six months to hold the election of the 60 members making up the Assembly, which will work in parallel with the Congress.

The Constitutional Assembly shall have a period of not less than six months or more than nine months to deliver to the Electoral Tribunal the text of the new constitution, which then shall be submitted to a referendum within 180 days.


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