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Panamanians decide political future for the next five years

Panama City, May 5 (Prensa Latina) This Sunday, 3.4 million Panamanians are deciding their nation’s political future in the next five years, a vote polarized between the desired social change or the patronage and transitional models of previous governments.

Citizens will go to 3,037 polling stations where 7, 577 voting tables are enabled from 07:00 to 16:00 local time to choose 887 public officials (26 more than in 2019), in a complex democratic process, where they win by simple majority and there will be no second round.

In these elections, Panamanians will cast their votes for the new president and vice president of the Republic, 20 MPs to the Central American Parliament and 71 legislators to the National Assembly.

They will further elect 81 mayors, 701 township representatives and 11 councilpersons, all with their respective alternates for the term from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2029.

In addition, 3, 596 Panamanians residing abroad, 95% of those eligible, and 670 registered in the Registry of Voters for Advanced Voting (REVA), mainly public servants who this Sunday will not be able to attend the polls in person as they are working today, have already exercised their right to vote online, but only for the office of President of the Republic.

On Sunday, former Argentinian Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, now head of the Electoral Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS), urged to go out with democratic conviction, and that the people’s decision be reflected on the ballots.

Amid a rampant frustration for the performance of the traditional political parties and the lack of institutional credibility, seven candidates aspiring to replace the worn out Cortizo’s Administration are arriving at the crucial hour.

For several analysts, the new governors will have to face a weakened economy that drags almost USD$50 billion of public debt, draft a new Constitution, a bankrupt Social Security Fund, the water crisis and the role of the Canal.

Likewise, informality in the labor market, high cost of living, growing irregular migration, corruption cases pending in the justice system and the aftermaths of the end of metal mining, demanded by the people in the streets’ riots that shook the country in 2023, among other challenges.

Disputing to occupy that space in the “Palacio de las Garzas” – seat of the Executive- is the standard-bearer of the Achieving Goals and Alliance parties, Jose Raul Mulino, who leads by a wide margin in the polls of voting intentions, but whose candidacy was sued and then endorsed in a marathon session by the Supreme Court of Justice.

Mulino, aged 64, and former Minister of Security in the Martinelli Government (2009-2014), being criticized for leading police repression of the original inhabitants, replaced Martinelli who had to fulfil a ten-year sentence for money laundering in the New Business case and since February 7, under asylum in the Nicaraguan Embassy in this capital.

Judging by the polls, Mulino is followed in the preferences, in a known technical match, by the former President of the Republic Martin Torrijos (2004-2009) who runs for the Popular Party; and two others who already rivaled in the 2019 elections: Ricardo Lombana, now for the Other Way Movement; and Romulo Roux, backed by Democratic Change and the Panameñista party.

The representative of the current ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Jose Gabriel Carrizo, and the only two women candidates for free nomination, economist Maribel Gordon and congresswoman Zulay Rodriguez, are also participating in these elections, with less possibilities.

For several analysts, the most recent ruling of the Supreme Court on Mulino will have an impact on voting intentions, especially due to the current high percentage of undecided voters, which reflects the complexity of even early and cautious forecasts, a scenario in which the participation of young people will be decisive.

In that sense, scholars such as Jose Stoute have warned that the possibilities of an alternative revolve around those who are concerned over Mulino’s candidacy and may direct their vote towards the candidate they consider to have a better chance of winning; while others, taking his triumph for granted, would not vote at all.

Some personalities have been more emphatic, such as the popular singer-songwriter Ruben Blades, who asserted that if on May 5 the electorate chooses as its president and representative the front man of a declared corrupt person in a free election, then put a sign on our Republic saying, “For sale, portable country and let’s stop pretending to be Patriots.”

In an atmosphere marked by uncertainty, it will be the voters who go to the polls at the polling stations who will define the political future of Panama for the next five years.