Country Listing

Panama Table of Contents


Provincial and Municipal Government

The nine provincial governments are little more than administrative subdivisions of the central government. Article 249 of the Constitution states that "in each province there shall be a Governor freely appointed and removed by the Executive who shall be the agent and representative of the President within his jurisdiction." In addition, each province has a body known as the Provincial Council, composed of district (corregimiento) representatives. The governor, mayors, and additional individuals "as determined by the law" also take part in each council, but without voting rights. The powers of these councils are largely advisory, and they lack actual legislative responsibility. The Comarca de San Blas, inhabited largely by Cuna Indians, has a distinct form of local government headed by caciques, or tribal leaders (see Indians , ch. 2).

In contrast, the nation's sixty-five municipal governments are "autonomous political organizations." Although closely tied to the national government, municipal officials, under Article 232 of the Constitution, may not be removed from office by the national administration. In each municipality, the mayor, the director of municipal administration, and their substitutes (suplentes) are directly elected for five-year terms. There is, however, an additional constitutional provision that the Legislative Assembly may pass laws requiring that officials in some or all municipalities are to be appointed by the president rather than elected. In 1984 municipal officials were elected in a separate election, held on short notice after the election of the president and the legislature. Opposition parties protested the timing and conditions of these elections, but participated. The great majority of offices, including those in the capital, were won by progovernment candidates, but opposition parties did gain control of a few municipalities, notably in David, capital of Chiriquí Province.

Municipalities are divided further into districts, from each of which a representative is elected to the Municipal Council. Should a town have fewer than five districts, five council members are chosen in at-large elections. These districts, in turn, have their own form of local government, headed by a corregidor, and including a junta communal made up of the corregidor, the district's representative to the Municipal Council, and five other residents "selected in the form determined by law."

The major concern of municipal and district officials is the collection and expenditure of local revenues. These local politicians have some control over public works, business licenses, and other forms of local regulations and improvements, but many functions that fall within the jurisdiction of local governments in other nations, such as educational, judicial, and police administration, are left exclusively to the jurisdiction of the central government. Local administrations do contribute to the cost of schools, but the amount of their contribution is determined at the national level, based on their population and their state of economic and social development.

Data as of December 1987