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August 19, 1998

The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), César Gaviria, on Tuesday signed an agreement for an observation mission to be despatched to Panama for that country's referendum on August 30. The agreement was also signed by Panama's ambassador to the OAS, Lawrence Chewning Fábrega, at the Organization's headquarters.

The 15 member international observation mission is to be headed by Santiago Murray, a specialist in the OAS' Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, and the observers begin arriving in the Panamanian capital this week, to be deployed across the country.

In the referendum which was called by the government, Panamanians will decide on several constitutional reforms passed by the Legislative Assembly, among them whether to allow a president to run for re-election; budgetary autonomy for the Electoral Tribunal; and whether to repeal constitutional provisions under which members of parliament can be dismissed.

Signing the agreement, Ambassador Chewning Fábrega stated that the OAS presence is necessary to provide greater support to the process and the final results of the referendum. "I am optimistic the process will be clean and honest and this I feel will be ensured by OAS support," said the Panamanian diplomat.

Last June, the Panamanian Electoral Tribunal asked the OAS to send an observation mission. The mission is to be financed through external funds secured from the government of the United States. So far the mission chief has set up appointments with the country's foreign minister, electoral authorities, political party representatives, and the Justice and Peace Commission, among others.

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