Panamanians vote in crowded field of presidential contenders

G. Samdani Avatar



Panamanians vote in crowded field of presidential contenders

By Valentine Hilaire and Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY, May 5 (Reuters)Panamanians will head to the polls in Sunday’s general election to elect one of eight contenders to be the nation’s next president and vote for hundreds of local lawmakers and officials.

Following weeks of campaign events that featured catchy reggaeton songs and popular entertainers, over 3 million voters will decide who is best placed to fix Panama’s pressing economic problems, tackle corruption and restore the country’s reputation as an investment haven.

Jose Raul Mulino, a former minister who replaced popular ex-president Ricardo Martinelli on the ballot after Martinelli was barred from running due to a money laundering conviction, is leading in opinion polls. Mulino has promised to usher in prosperity and to keep Martinelli out of jail.

Romulo Roux, in his second bid to win the presidency, and ex-president Martin Torrijos have alternated between second and third place. Trailing closely behind is Ricardo Lombana, who also ran in the past election, and current vice president Jose Gabriel Carrizo.

Panama’s electoral rules do not require a run-off, making Sunday’s result final. Campaigns have said they will send volunteers to the polls to oversee voting and ensure a fair election.

No single party is forecast to win control of the legislature, where 885 seats are up for grabs.

Lawmakers across different parties who backed a controversial government contract with Canadian miner First Quantum have faced a backlash that could hurt their support.

Many Panamanians took to the streets last year to protest the Cobre Panama mine contract, which opponents argued lacked environmental guarantees and was riddled with corruption. Panama’s top court ruled the contract unconstitutional in November.

Panama’s next government will have to contend with a troubled pension fund system, high levels of public debt and the loss in income from the closure of the mine, which accounted for about 5% of gross domestic product.

Corruption has become a hot-button issue for voters. Local media has recently reported on lucrative student loans and scholarships granted to the children of politicians and wealthy high-profile families.

After a record 520,000 migrants last year crossed the treacherous jungle that connects Panama and Colombia, known as the Darien Gap, migration is also on voters’ minds. Some candidates have vowed to open up the path, which could increase migration flows, while others want to boost controls to shut it down completely.

The next administration will also inherit problems faced by the Panama Canal, which saw revenues tumble after it was forced to cut ship crossings due to a prolonged drought.

Reporting by Valentine Hilaire and Elida Moreno; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Rosalba O’Brien

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *