Like many countries with a young democracy, Panama constitutionally term-limits its president. And like many such countries, Panama has endured a president eager to dispense with the irksome restriction.
Too often, deleting the term limit comes too easy. All it takes is a few cooperative lawmakers of the ruling party or a few cooperative judges; at most, a national referendum, if the officeholder is popular . . . or ruthless enough to rig it.
In Panama, though, Martinelli — who must sit out the next two terms before running for the presidency again — has been hitting a brick wall.
Amending Panama’s constitution is easier than amending our own. But it still requires the co-operation of two separate legislative bodies. He could not obtain it.
A referendum was also a non-starter. Martinelli proved less popular toward the end of his term than he was at the beginning, and Panamanian voters showed little inclination to lengthen his tenure.
He tried packing Panama’s supreme court so that it would determine the constitutional term limit to be unconstitutional. But mass protests forced a retreat there as well.
Finally, the incumbent tried the hand-picked-successor gambit — “re-election in disguise” — ardently campaigning for José Domingo Arias and Arias’s vice presidential candidate, Martinelli’s wife. On May 4, though, Juan Carlos Varela won a three-way contest for the presidency with a 39 percent plurality.
The result is not a permanent victory for term limits or democracy; such victories are never permanent. But it is a victory, and a big one.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.