May 28, 2024

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Standing up at the last minute wins Panama’s presidency

Standing up at the last minute wins Panama’s presidency

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Panama is on track to elect conservative Jose Raul Molino for president, according to preliminary results, after he ran for a popular former president who was convicted of money laundering.

Molino received 34 percent of the vote on Sunday evening with 92 percent of the votes counted, while Ricardo Lombana, an outside anti-corruption candidate, came in second place with 25 percent. More than three-quarters of voters in the Central American country went to the polls.

Molino’s expected victory came thanks to the support of former President Ricardo Martinelli, who replaced him in the ballot after the latter was convicted of money laundering.

Molyneux, a lawyer turned politician and former security minister, promised to build a new train line across the country, revitalize the economy, and suppress record cross-country migration from South America.

“Less blah blah blah, more public works, more progress and money in your pocket,” Molyneux promised voters.

The presidential campaign was so unusual that Molyneux, who had not participated in any presidential debates, faced doubts about his candidacy until this week, when the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional.

Martinelli, an outspoken businessman facing multiple corruption charges, has been campaigning since February from a storage room at the Nicaraguan embassy, ​​where he fled after a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering last year made him ineligible to run.

Molyneux, who campaigned against the military dictatorship of Manuel Noriega, will inherit a country facing some of the most complex economic and social challenges since the restoration of democracy after the US invasion in 1989.

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The economic boom that accelerated under Martinelli is now fading. The International Monetary Fund expects a sharp slowdown in GDP growth to 2.5 percent this year, from 7.5 percent in 2023, and Fitch downgraded Panama’s bonds to junk territory in March.

Compounding the problems, the country’s canal is in desperate need of a new water source amid drought, mass protests led to the sudden closure of one of the world’s largest copper mines last year, and economists say the pension system needs urgent reform.

Molyneux’s proposals have focused on large infrastructure projects. “[There are] “The huge social, economic and financial challenges can be addressed if he forms a national unity government to build confidence,” said Philippe Chapman, managing partner at consultancy Endesa. “Now it’s up to him.”

As of Sunday evening, only 6.5 percent of the votes in the Legislative Council had been counted, but analysts said they were likely to be split between different parties.

Panama is trying to change its image as a tax haven, and was recently removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s money laundering gray list.

One of the first questions Molyneux will face is what to do about Martinelli, who remains the country’s most popular politician and has been granted asylum by Nicaragua but is likely to be arrested if he leaves its embassy in Panama City.

Molyneux said he would “help” his friend but had not yet explained how.