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Panama Elections: Voters in Panama vote to elect a new president

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PANAMA CITY (AFP) – Voters in Panama cast their ballots on Sunday In the elections She was consumed by the unfolding drama surrounding the country’s former president, even though he was not on the ballot.

As the hot sun shone on this normally sleepy Central American country, voters lined up outside polling stations. Eager for change after months of political turmoil and protests, Panamanians are weighing promises of economic prosperity and immigration crackdowns in the face of a corruption scandal.

More than 50 countries will go to the polls in 2024

“The election in Panama will be one of the most complex in its modern history. The vote was marked by increasing political division and social discontent under the outgoing President Laurentino CortizoArantza Alonso, senior analyst for the Americas at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said before the polls opened.

The presidential race remained in limbo until Friday morning, when Panama’s Supreme Court ruled on the leading presidential candidate Jose Raul Molino He let it run. She said he was qualified despite allegations that his candidacy was not legitimate because he was not elected in the primary.

Molyneux joined the race late to replace the former president Ricardo Martinelli As a candidate for the Achieving Goals Party. The fiery Martinelli was banned from running in March, after he was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for money laundering.

Martinelli, a businessman who was Panama’s president from 2009 to 2014, dominated most of the election race. He campaigned for the position of his former deputy from within the walls of the Nicaraguan embassy, ​​where He took refuge in February After obtaining political asylum. On Sunday morning, Molyneux entered the Nicaraguan embassy, ​​accompanied by photographers, and hugged Martinelli tightly, saying: “Brother, we will prevail!”

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Despite lacking Martinelli’s courage, Molyneux retracted his relationship with the former president. He is rarely seen without his blue Martinelli Molino 2024 hat and has promised to help Martinelli if elected, a pledge welcomed by the former president’s supporters.

Panamanians are largely overwhelmed by the rampant corruption that plagues the country. However, many are willing to overlook Martinelli’s prison sentence, his 2017 arrest in Florida and elsewhere. Corruption scandals In favor of the humming economy he witnessed during his presidency.

Among them was Juan José Tinoco, who voted from a working-class district of small concrete homes surrounded by expensive skyscrapers. The 63-year-old bus driver said he intends to vote for Molyneux because it is the closest thing he can get to Martinelli, adding that he earned a fair amount of money during the former president’s time in power.

“We have problems with health services, education, garbage in the streets… and corruption that never goes away,” Tinoco said. “We have money here. This is a country with a lot of wealth, but we need a leader who will devote himself to Panama’s needs.”

Molyneux promised to usher in another wave of economic prosperity and stop Migration across the Darien GapIt is a dangerous forest region that overlaps Colombia and Panama and through which half a million migrants crossed last year.

While Molyneux’s message resonated with many voters, others like Emanuel Romero, a 68-year-old Uber driver, agreed that the country needs change but with someone new at the helm.

Romero’s car was painted with signs of Ricardo Lombana, a candidate who denounced corruption and sought to win the votes of Panamanian youth eager for change.

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Molyneux leads opinion polls with about 35% of the vote, while his rivals lag behind. Former President Martin Torrijos came in second with 15%, while former presidential candidates Romulo Roo and Lombana received 14% and 12%, respectively, according to a March poll by the Panamanian Institute of Civic Studies.

“If we want to see more of the same — corruption and the collapse of our country — let’s vote for the same people. “I will vote for an independent person who I am confident will do things in a better way that will save the country,” Romero said.

Regardless of who takes the reins, Panama’s next president faces an uphill battle, especially when it comes to the economy. Last year, the Central American country endured weeks of massive anti-government protests that came to epitomize a deeper discontent among citizens.

The protests targeted a government contract with a copper mine, which critics said endangered the environment and water at a time when drought has become so bad that it has effectively impeded commercial transit through the Panama Canal.

While many celebrated in November when the country’s Supreme Court convened The contract was declared unconstitutionalThe mine closure, the recent slowdown in economic growth, and declining canal transit could put Panama’s new leader in an awkward position.

——

Associated Press journalist Janetsky reported from Mexico City.

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