Although no date has been set for a public referendum on the amendment to the constitution to allow President Balladares to stand for re-election in May next year, the campaign for the presidential and legislative elections is due to begin with the presidential primaries on March 29th. Panama has 11 political parties -- a large number for a country with a population of only 2.6m. Many political analysts predict that without the creation of strong alliances to challenge it, the ruling Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) will win again. Opposition parties are still considering some tie-up for the elections, but no announcements have been made to date.
-- with turmoil within the major opposition parties
With the political temperature rising, disagreements and rivalries within the other leading parties -- the Partido Arnulfista, Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista (MOLIRENA) and Movimiento Papa Egoro (MPE) -- have found open expression. The Arnulfista Alberto Vallarino has announced his intention to oppose the party's controversial president, Mireya Moscoso, in the primaries. Another strong political leader, Guillermo Ford, suffered defections from his MOLIRENA party in January when the party's secretary, Ricardo Aleman, accepted Mr Balladares's invitation to become the president of the CFZ and, not long after, two other party officers resigned or were expelled, citing irreconcilable differences with Mr Ford over their willingness to consider re-election. The MPE meanwhile expelled its representative to the Legislative Assembly, Gloria Young, for lack of discipline. Ms Young was an outspoken opponent of re- election while the MPE, historically a neutral party, has not taken an official position.