Panama's electoral tribunal on Monday dismissed the idea of organizing a referendum in December on a mining contract that has ignited countrywide protests, even as the president insisted on a vote.
President Laurentino Cortizo on Sunday suggested holding a referendum on December 17 in a bid to defuse 10-day-old demonstrations that have blocked roads and starved shops of supplies.
But "At this time, the conditions are not in place to organize a... vote," the court's president Alfredo Junca told reporters Monday, in reference to the very unrest the referendum was meant to quell.
But Cortizo stuck to his guns, sending a bill to Congress Monday seeking to compel the tribunal to organize a vote.
"Through this bill we have the opportunity to deploy actions that lead us to generate social peace," Interior Minister Roger Tejada said as he presented the initiative to lawmakers.
Protests broke out on October 20 after Congress approved a law that allows First Quantum Minerals, a Vancouver-based company, to operate an open pit copper mine for 20 years, with an option to extend for another two decades.
The president promulgated the law the same day.
Teachers, doctors and union workers all swelled into the small country's streets to oppose the contract, setting up blockades in the capital and other cities.
Some blocked the Pan-American highway that connects Panama with the rest of Central America.
Protesters are concerned over the potential environmental impacts of Central America's largest open pit copper mine, as well as other terms of the deal.
In response to the unrest, Cortizo on Friday announced a ban on new metal mining concessions.
He also said his government would request a law that prohibits "metallic mining at the national level," but did not cancel the First Quantum Minerals deal.
Junca said Monday the matter was also before the Supreme Court, making a referendum moot.