Panamanian general election, 1989

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Panama held a general election on 7 May 1989, with the goal of electing both a new President of the Republic and a new Legislative Assembly. The two primary candidates in the presidential race were Guillermo Endara, who headed Democratic Alliance of Civic Opposition (ADOC), a coalition opposed to military ruler Manuel Noriega, and Carlos Duque, who headed the pro-Noriega Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

However, the election was annulled before voting was completed by Noriega's government, and Endara and his running mate Guillermo Ford were attacked in front of foreign media by Noriega supporters, events that contributed to the US invasion of Panama in December of that year. During the invasion, Endara was declared the election's winner and sworn in as the new president of Panama.


The death of Arnulfo Arias in August 1988, a few days before his eighty-seventh birthday, removed a major obstacle to opposition unity, but also created several new problems. It left the opposition without a charismatic national leader to place at the head of any 1989 electoral ticket.[1]

The PPA, Panama's leading opposition party, divided in December 1988. The Electoral Tribunal formally recognized the faction led by Hildebrando Nicosia Pérez as the legitimate party representative, entitling Nicosia and his colleagues to use the party symbols. According to the opposition, the government engineered the division in the party to sow confusion among the electorate. However, Nicosia's effort to present himself as the heir of Arias was singularly unsuccessful according to the opposition's election results, which showed him receiving less than one percent of the vote.

A majority of the PPA's hierarchy supported the anti-government Democratic Alliance of Civic Opposition (ADOC); the party's secretary-general, Guillermo Endara, was ADOC's presidential candidate. Denied use of the PPA symbol, Endara and the party's legislative candidates competed under the banner of the Authentic Liberal Party, which is the product of a schism that developed in the Liberal Party prior to the 1984 elections. The military rule of Manuel Noriega also provoked a split in the Republican Party (RP), but the majority of the legitimate leadership of the RP participated in the ADOC coalition.[2] Two other major parties—the PDC and MOLIRENA—were also part of ADOC. ADOC also had the support of the small Popular Action Party (PAPA), and National Peoples Party (PNP), and defectors from the Liberal and Republican parties, and a dissident faction of the PPA. In addition to Endara, ADOC's electoral slate included Ricardo Arias Calderón of the PDC for first vice president and Guillermo Ford of MOLIRENA for second vice president.[2]

Progovernment parties - the PRD, PALA, PR, PL, PPR, PPP, PAN, PDT had formed a new electoral coalition, the National Liberation Coalition (COLINA). The PRD was the coalition's leading party and its president, Carlos Alberto Duque Jaén, a business associate of Noriega, was the coalition's presidential candidate. COLINA's other significant party was PALA, led by Ramón Sieiro Murgas, the coalition's candidate for first vice president and a brother-in-law of Noriega. COLINA's candidate for second vice president was Aquilino Boyd, former foreign minister, and former ambassador to the United States, the United Nations and, most recently, the Organization of American States. COLINA, in presenting a united slate for the legislature, contained a broad ideological spectrum that included Communist Party members, businessmen and professionals.[3]


An exit poll of 1,022 voters gave the opposition an overwhelming victory: 55.1% for Endara, but only 39.5% for Duque. The margin shocked Noriega, who either was misled by advisers or really believed that the election would be close enough to manipulate with minimal fraud.[4]

On 9 May, government-released results gave a clear-cut lead to Duque. Opposition forces - as well as foreign observers and the clergy - thereupon claimed massive election irregularities since by their count, Endara had been the overwhelming winner. Parliamentary results also indicated an opposition victory.[5] Former US President Jimmy Carter, one of the election observers, was placed under brief house arrest by Noriega's forces to prevent him from speaking to the press. At a later press conference, he called for an international response to the stolen election, then addressed the Noriega administration directly, asking "Are you honest people, or are you thieves?"[6]

On 10 May, the president of the Electoral Tribunal read a statement signed by all three magistrates annulling the elections. The statement alluded to the fact that the great number of irregularities across the country made counting the votes impossible.[7]

The next day, Endara and his running mate Ford were badly beaten by a detachment of Dignity Battalions, a paramilitary group supporting Noriega.[8][9] Endara was struck with an iron club and was briefly hospitalized, receiving eight stitches.[10] Images of the attack on Endara and Ford were carried by media around the world, and were credited with building public support for the US invasion that would soon follow.[9][11][12]

The nullification decree coupled with the attack on Endara and Ford outraged Panamanians and the international community. In an emergency session on 17 May, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution condemning the regime for its actions.[13]


On 31 August 1989, the Council of State dissolved the National Assembly, named a provisional government headed by ex-Attorney General Francisco Rodríguez, and announced that he would consider holding another election in six months.[14]

The immediate events that triggered the invasion began on December 15, when Panama’s hand-picked National Assembly declared Noriega the de jure head of state, giving him the title of Maximum Leader. Then the assembly, citing aggression against the Panamanian people, declared the republic in a state of war with the United States.[15] On 20 December, 24,000 US troops invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause, deposing Noriega.[14]

Endara had by this time taken refuge in the Panama Canal Zone, which was under US control. Though Endara had opposed US military action during his campaign, he accepted the presidency, stating later that, "morally, patriotically, civically I had no other choice".[12] He was certified the winner of the election and inaugurated on a US military base on December 20. Ricardo Arias Calderón was inaugurated as first vice president, and Ford as second vice president.[16]

On 27 December, the Electoral Tribunal revoked the annulment of the general elections held on 7 May.[17] Working on voting returns of the May 1989 elections, on 23 February 1990, the tribunal confirmed the election of 58 of the 67 legislators, with 51 seats going to the ADOC coalition and only six to the pro-Noriega PRD.[18] On 27 January 1991, by-elections were held for the nine seats of the Legislative Assembly which could not be filled at the May 1989 general elections. The PRD's victory in five of the seats deepened internal divisions in the government coalition.[19]

Presidential election results[edit]

Candidate Party/Alliance Votes[20] % Votes[21] %
Guillermo Endara Democratic Alliance of Civic Opposition (ADOC) 463,388 71.18% 473,838 71.19%
Christian Democratic Party (PDC) 261,598 40.18% ?? ??
National Liberal Republican Movement (MOLIRENA) 132,011 20.28% ?? ??
Authentic Liberal Party (PLA) 69,779 10.72% ?? ??
Carlos Alberto Duque Jaén National Liberal Coalition (COLINA) 184,900 28.40% 188,914 28.38%
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) 120,564 18.52% ?? ??
Labor and Agrarian Party (PALA) 35,264 05.42% ?? ??
Liberal Party (PL) 12,718 01.95% ?? ??
Republican Party (PR) 5,584 00.86% ?? ??
Revolutionary Panameñista Party (PPR) 5,533 00.85% ?? ??
People’s Party of Panama (PPP) 2,919 00.45% ?? ??
Nationalist Action Party (PAN) 1,463 00.22% ?? ??
Democratic Worker's Party (PDT) 855 00.13% ?? ??
Hildebrando Nicosia Pérez Authentic Panameñista Party (PPA) 2,750 00.42% 2,822 00.42%
Total valid votes 651,038 100% 665,574 100%
Spoilt and invalid votes 66,733 09.30% 92,223 12.17%
Total votes/Turnout 717,771 60.48% 757,797 63.85%
Registered voters 1,186,754 1,186,754
Population 2,239,239 2,239,239

Legislative election [22][edit]

Parties and alliances Votes/districts % Seats 7.5.1989 Seats 27.1.1991 Seats total
Democratic Alliance of Civic Opposition (ADOC) 404,834 66.45% 51 4 55
Christian Democratic Party (PDC) 219,944 36.10% 27 2 28
National Liberal Republican Movement (MOLIRENA) 122,974 20.19% 15 2 16
Authentic Liberal Party (PLA) 61,916 10.16% 9 0 5
Arnulfista Party (PA) 0 6
National Liberal Coalition (COLINA) 201,382 33.06% 7 5 12
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) 114,741 18.83% 6 4 10
Labor and Agrarian Party (PALA) 47,775 07.84% 1 0 1
Liberal Party (PL) 17,712 02.91% 0 1 1
Republican Party (PR) 8,602 01.41% 0 0 0
People’s Party of Panama (PPP) 4,988 00.82% 0 0 0
Nationalist Action Party (PAN) 3,572 00.59% 0 0 0
Revolutionary Panameñista Party (PPR) 2,917 00.48% 0 0 0
Democratic Worker's Party (PDT) 1,075 00.18% 0 0 0
Authentic Panameñista Party (PPA) 3,015 00.49% 0 0 0
Total valid votes 609,231 100% 67 9 67
Spoilt and invalid votes ?? ?? ?? ?? ??
Total votes/Turnout ?? ?? ?? ?? ??
Registered voters 1186754
Population 2239239


  1. ^ Millett, Richard L. "The failure of Panama's internal opposition, 1987-1989." Conflict resolution and democratization in Panama: implications for U.S. policy. 1992. Washington: The Center for Strategic and International Studies. Pp. 26.
  2. ^ a b The May 7, 1989 Panamanian Elections. International Delegation Report. 1989. Pp. 37. (
  3. ^ The May 7, 1989 Panamanian Elections. International Delegation Report. 1989. Pp. 36. (
  4. ^ Scranton, Margaret E. 1991. The Noriega years: U.S.-Panamanian relations, 1981-1990. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. Pp. 161.
  5. ^ Chronicle of parliamentary elections. Geneva: International Centre for Parliamentary Documentation, Inter-Parliamentary Union. Volume 24, 1990. Pp. 174.
  6. ^ Harding 2006, p. 112.
  7. ^ Pérez, Orlando J. "Elections under crisis: background to Panama in the 1980s." Seligson, Mitchell A. and John A. Booth. 1995. Elections and democracy in Central America, revisited. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. Pp. 133.
  8. ^ Katz, Gregory (May 11, 1989). "Panama Violence Spreads Thugs Attack 3 Anti-noriega Candidates". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (September 30, 2009). "Guillermo Endara, Who Helped Lead Panama From Noriega to Democracy, Dies at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Panama declares election result void; Endara hurt". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 11, 1989. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  11. ^ MacPherson, Myra (January 30, 1990). "Panama's Philosopher Pol;Ricardo Arias Calderon's Leap From Exiled Academic to Vice President". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 31, 2012.  (subscription required)
  12. ^ a b Davison, Phil (October 2, 2009). "Guillermo Endara". The Independent. Retrieved August 31, 2012. (subscription required)
  13. ^ The May 7, 1989 Panamanian Elections. International Delegation Report. 1989. Pp. 17. (
  14. ^ a b Dunkerley, James. 1994. The pacification of Central America: political change in the isthmus, 1987-1993. London: Verso. Pp. 35.
  15. ^ Musicant, Ivan. 1990. The banana wars: a history of United States military intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the invasion of Panama. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Pp. 396.
  16. ^ Freed, Kenneth (May 6, 1991). "Panama's 3-Party Rule Turns Into 3-Ring Circus". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  17. ^ Chronicle of parliamentary elections. Geneva: International Centre for Parliamentary Documentation, Inter-Parliamentary Union. Volume 24, 1990. Pp. 20.
  18. ^ Country profile. Costa Rica, Panama (Economist Intelligence Unit), 1994-1995. Pp. 33.
  19. ^ Chronicle of parliamentary elections. Geneva: International Centre for Parliamentary Documentation, Inter-Parliamentary Union. Volume 25, 1991. Pp. 19.
  20. ^ The May 7, 1989 Panamanian Elections. International Delegation Report. 1989. Pp. 111-114. (
  21. ^ Elections in the Americas : a data handbook / ed. by Dieter Nohlen, Vol. 1. [Oxford] [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005. Pp.533.
  22. ^ Elections in the Americas : a data handbook / ed. by Dieter Nohlen, Vol. 1. [Oxford] [u.a.] : Oxford Univ. Press, 2005. Pp.527.


  • Robert C. Harding (2006). The History of Panama. Greenwood Press. ISBN 031333322X.