Panama will not hold a referendum on whether or not to scrap a mining contract awarded to First Quantum Minerals earlier this month, as the nation’s electoral court said it is unable to organise it, given it would require congress to first pass a law.
Panama’s electoral authority, which is responsible for ensuring elections are carried out in a free, transparent and effective manner, said in a statement on Monday: “At this moment, there are no conditions to organise the intended popular consultation.”
The initial decision to hold a referendum came after thousands took to the streets in Panama City to protest against the contract, which was finalised on 20 October. The protests reached their highest pitch on Saturday as a group in a speedboat infiltrated a port used to export copper. First Quantum condemned the protest as an “illegal and violent” attempt to disrupt its operations.
On Monday the Panama electoral board cited lack of legal provisions and the short time frame for arranging the vote as reasons for not being able to hold the referendum at this time.
The day after President Cortizo announced that a popular vote would be held on 17 December, First Quantum’s share price closed 28% lower, its biggest drop in 26 years.
Panama’s economy is set to lose the equivalent of 0.9% of gross domestic product in government revenues should the mining contract not go ahead.
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Following the electoral board’s announcement, Panama’s dollar bonds experienced losses, with notes due in 2036 falling $0.14 to $0.96 cents on the dollar on Monday afternoon, after trading lower earlier in the day. The debt was the worst-performing in the emerging markets on Monday.