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Panama elections

José Raúl Mulino Wins Panama’s Presidential Election

José Raúl Mulino wins Panama’s presidential election! The 64-year-old lawyer secured over a third of votes after an unconventional path to the presidency.

José Raúl Mulino was elected as the new president of Panama after winning yesterday’s presidential election. Mulino, 64, who ran on the ticket of ex-president Ricardo Martinelli’s Realizing Goals (RM) party, secured over a third of the votes in Panama’s first-past-the-post system.

Mulino’s Path to the Presidency Was Unconventional

He originally joined the presidential race in March as the running mate of former president Martinelli, for whom he served under as Justice Minister and Security Minister in his original 2009-2014 term. However, Martinelli’s disqualification from running, due to a 128-month prison sentence for money laundering, put Mulino into the limelight.

Mulino then took over as the RM presidential candidate, replacing Martinelli, who has taken asylum in the Nicaraguan Embassy in Panama City. His candidacy was initially challenged as unconstitutional since he did not win a primary vote, but Panama’s Supreme Court dismissed that complaint on Friday, just two days before the yesterday’s election.

Despite being physically absent from the campaign trail, having taken asylum, Martinelli’s presence loomed large over the election. Many Panamanians believe the ex-president, who oversaw a booming economy during his 2009-2014 term, will wield significant influence over Mulino’s administration.

Mulino acknowledged Martinelli after his victory, saying: “When you invited me to be vice president, I never imagined this.” He visited Martinelli at the Nicaraguan Embassy yesterday morning and the two embraced. Mulino will have the power to pardon Martinelli once he takes office, and many expect him to do so.

In his victory, Mulino promised his government will be one “of unity.” In what can be only seen as a nod to Martinelli’s situation, he also said that “political persecution is over.

Huge Tasks Ahead for Mulino

The election, the first since the pandemic, was seen as crucial as Panama grapples with widespread government corruption, a severe drought crippling the key Panama Canal, and managing hundreds of thousands of U.S.-bound migrants passing through the jungles of the Darien Gap.

Outgoing President Laurentino Cortizo leaves office after a term marred by corruption allegations, declining foreign investment, and high public debt. In a tweet last night, he said that he had spoken to the President-Elect to congratulate him and reaffirm his commitment to an orderly transition of power.

Mulino has vowed to return Panama to 7% economic growth and made bold campaign promises regarding infrastructure projects, raising the minimum wage, lowering medicine prices, and providing laptops/internet to all students.

However, many questions remain about how he will accomplish his goals and what role Martinelli will play. Mulino inherits an economy forecast by the IMF to slow from 7.3% growth in 2023 to just 2.5% this year amid challenges like high unemployment around 10% and income inequality.

Other key issues include last year’s protests over a mining concession that critics said endangered water sources, as well as managing maritime trade disrupted by the drought impacting the Panama Canal.

Mulino will take office on July 1 for a single five-year term.

CA Staff

CA Staff