sunny.png
Wednesday January 22nd, 2020 2:27PM

Cattleman holds slim lead in tight race for Panama president

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

PANAMA CITY (AP) — A cattleman held on to a narrow lead over a businessman late Sunday as returns came in from Panama's tightest presidential election in recent years, following a campaign that focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in this Central America trade and financial hub.

The Electoral Court said it needed more ballots to be counted before declaring a winner. There is no runoff in Panama, so the top vote-getter in the field of seven mostly business-friendly candidates would win outright.

With more than 91% of votes counted, Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party led, with almost 33%. That was just ahead of Rómulo Roux of the Democratic Change party at 31%. About 36,000 votes separated the two men, who together received around 1.2 million votes.

Speaking to reporters, Cortizo said he expected to soon receive a phone call from the Electoral Court to announce his victory. Supporters had begun to clear out of his campaign headquarters after a night of celebrating as returns came in. The Democratic Revolutionary Party, once the political arm of Panama's former military government, lost the last two presidential contests.

Shortly before Cortizo's comments, Roux vowed not to concede defeat, saying the results were too close and suggesting that the race was marred by irregularities.

"We have to guarantee the protection of the electoral process and of democracy. Right now, it's in doubt," Roux said, without providing any evidence of election tampering.

The electoral commission said it would be prudent to count more votes, given Roux's refusal to concede.

Voters cast ballots at roughly 3,000 locations without major incidents.

Whichever candidate emerges as the winner, he will likely take office July 1 for a five-year term with the lowest level of popular votes since the dictatorship of Manuel Noriega ended in 1989.

The election followed revelations of money laundering in the so-called Panama Papers that dinged the country's reputation on the world stage. The trove of secret financial documents showed how some of the world's richest people hid their money using shell companies in Panama and other countries.

Despite the scandal, Panama remains a strategic location for commerce, anchored by the heavily trafficked Panama Canal shipping route and a recently expanded international airport.

Cortizo, a 66-year-old who studied business administration in the U.S., was agriculture minister under President Martin Torrijos and campaigned on vows to clean up Panama's image after recent corruption scandals.

"For Panamanians, as well as many other Latin Americans these days, corruption trumps all other issues, even inequality," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. "In country after country in the region, people are just fed up and are demanding a real change."

Roux, a 54-year-old businessman, had the endorsement of supermarket magnate and former President Ricardo Martinelli, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of political espionage. Roux held multiple government posts during the Martinelli administration, including minister of canal affairs and foreign minister.

Roux highlighted during his campaign that Panama's economy grew only 3.8% last year, versus a 10.7% expansion in 2012, when Martinelli was president. Roux's association with Martinelli appeared to have hurt his bid for the presidency, Shifter said.

The top three was rounded out by an independent candidate who got on the ballot by collecting thousands of signatures. Ricardo Lombana, 45, is a lawyer who gained prominence via a citizen's movement several years ago that questioned impunity and corruption in the country. Lombana had nearly 20% of the vote.

Lombana's campaign focused on drumming up support via social media, rather than through the costly television spots favored by candidates from Panama's three main political parties.

Turnout was strong at 72% as voters showed up under a hot, cloudy sky Sunday in the sixth presidential election since a U.S. invasion ousted strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989.

Panamanian voters were also concerned about rising unemployment, public schools in decline, unreliable water service and insufficient garbage collection in the capital.

Outgoing President Juan Carlos Varela, a 55-year-old conservative and liquor industry veteran, will likely be remembered as a leader who strengthened the country's political and economic ties with China. Panama established diplomatic relations with China, and disavowed Taiwan, in 2017.

Varela, who was constitutionally barred from re-election, assumed the presidency on promises to crack down on corruption and cut food prices. His greatest achievement was the opening with China, according to political analyst Roberto Eisenmann, who said the diplomatic warming with China "is a step that should have been taken 15 years ago."

China and the U.S. are the main clients of the Panama Canal, the economic engine of the country. The U.S. completed construction of the Panama Canal in 1914, creating a transoceanic path across an isthmus that had been a province of Colombia. The U.S. turned over control of the canal to Panama in 1999, with assurances that the canal would remain a neutral zone that doesn't favor one country over another.

Varela pushed to strengthen ties with China despite years of pressure from the U.S. to backtrack on the warming diplomatic ties. Several countries in Latin America have cut ties with Taiwan in recent years and received generous infrastructure investments as part of China's Belt and Road initiative. These developments have stoked some concerns in Washington that China is building alliances in the region, possibly at the expense of U.S. geopolitical and economic interests.

"We have always lived in the shadow of the United States and it was rather obvious that the United States would have preferred that we did not take this step" to open diplomatic relations with China, said Eisenmann.

Cortizo said he welcomes greater ties with China, provided that the warming relations do not damage Panama's strategic relationship with the U.S.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Elections, General Election News, General Presidential Election News, AP World News, AP Business, AP Elections - Campaigns, AP Business - Economy
© Copyright 2020 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2 arrested after clash in Sri Lanka town hit by Easter blast
Two people arrested, curfew lifted in a Sri Lankan town where a suicide bombing targeted a Catholic church and weekend clashes were said to involve majority ethnic Sinhalese and Muslims
12:10AM ( 14 minutes ago )
Cattleman holds slim lead in tight race for Panama president
A Panamanian cattleman is maintaining a narrow lead over a businessman in the country's tightest presidential election in recent years, following a campaign focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in Central America's trade and financial hub
11:59PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Cattleman, businessman in tight race for Panama's presidency
A Panamanian cattleman is maintaining a narrow lead over a businessman in the country's tightest presidential election in recent years, following a campaign focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in Central America's trade and financial hub
11:32PM ( 52 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Kamala Harris says AG Barr representing president, not US
Sen. Kamala Harris says Attorney General William Barr 'lied to Congress' and 'is clearly more interested in representing the president than the American people.'
10:15PM ( 2 hours ago )
Cattleman holds lead in tight race for Panama's presidency
A Panamanian cattleman is holding on to a narrow lead as returns come in from the country's presidential election, which followed a campaign that focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in this Central America trade and financial hub
9:26PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Harris says Barr representing Trump, not US
Sen. Kamala Harris said the attorney general "lied to Congress" and "is clearly more interested in representing the president than the American people."
9:08PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Elections
Biden surge fueled by electability advantage. Will it last?
Joe Biden's early surge is fueled by an electability advantage. Will it last?
3:24PM ( 8 hours ago )
The Latest: O'Rourke repeats calls to impeach Trump
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is repeating his calls to impeach President Donald Trump and drawing a distinction between himself and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
2:23PM ( 10 hours ago )
The Latest: Sanders unveiling plan on agriculture reform
Sen. Bernie Sanders is announcing a sweeping agriculture reform and rural investment plan that would change farm subsidies and break up major agriculture monopolies
1:13PM ( 11 hours ago )
General Election News
Government's candidate takes lead in North Macedonia runoff
The presidential candidate backed by North Macedonia's center-left government had a comfortable lead over a conservative rival based on preliminary returns from a runoff election Sunday
4:02PM ( 8 hours ago )
North Macedonia holds runoff vote for ceremonial presidency
North Macedonia held a competitive runoff election Sunday to choose a new president, a vote seen as a test of the center-left government's pro-West policies despite the largely ceremonial duties of the country's head of state
1:47PM ( 10 hours ago )
The Latest: Biden expects Trump's attacks on his family
Former Vice President Joe Biden is telling donors in South Carolina that he knows President Donald Trump is "going to go after me and my family" in the 2020 presidential race
8:33PM ( 1 day ago )
General Presidential Election News
Month of Ramadan fasting for many Muslims begins Monday
Muslims in Southeast Asia and much of the Middle East will start their Ramadan fasts on Monday while those in places like India, Pakistan and Iran will likely start Islam's holy month on Tuesday
11:14PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump threatens to hike tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports
President Donald Trump has turned up the pressure on China ahead of trade talks this week by threatening to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods
11:03PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Russia says at least 40 dead on burning jet
Russian officials are giving out conflicting numbers on a fiery airliner accident at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, but they indicate at least 40 people died
10:04PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP World News
Another body found at Illinois factory; death toll reaches 3
Waukegan Fire Marshal Steve Lenzi says search and recovery personnel have found the body of another worker in the rubble of a northern Illinois silicone plant that exploded and burst into flames
10:18PM ( 2 hours ago )
Confirmed deaths 3 as another body found at Illinois plant
Waukegan Fire Marshal Steve Lenzi says search and recovery personnel have found the body of another worker in the rubble of a northern Illinois silicone plant that exploded and burst into flames
9:42PM ( 2 hours ago )
Boeing didn't tell airlines that safety alert wasn't on
Boeing did not tell pilots and airlines that a safety alert on its 737 Max jets was not working until after one of the planes crashed in Indonesia last year
7:48PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business
South Africa sweeps into final election campaign weekend
South Africa sweeps into final election campaign weekend, fueled by anger over corruption
11:26AM ( 1 day ago )
Beer pong 2020: Will Gillibrand's cool campaign pay off?
She's trailed better-known rivals in the packed Democratic 2020 presidential field in poll support and fundraising but is making a case for being the coolest candidate
5:56AM ( 1 day ago )
Hiring surge lifts economy - and Trump's reelection chances
Surging economy is giving Trump's reelection chances a boost
5:52AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections - Campaigns
Kim oversees missile firing drills, tells troops to be alert
North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un observed a live-fire drill of long-range multiple rocket launchers and unspecified tactical guided weapons
10:24AM ( 14 hours ago )
The Latest: NKorea: Kim oversaw drills of rocket launchers
North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un observed a live-fire drill of long-range multiple rocket launchers and unspecified tactical guided weapons.
11:17PM ( 1 day ago )
NKorea says leader Kim oversaw drills of rocket launchers
North Korea says Kim oversaw drills of rocket launchers
7:07PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Economy
2 arrested after clash in Sri Lanka town hit by Easter blast
Two people arrested, curfew lifted in a Sri Lankan town where a suicide bombing targeted a Catholic church and weekend clashes were said to involve majority ethnic Sinhalese and Muslims
12:10AM ( 14 minutes ago )
Cattleman, businessman in tight race for Panama's presidency
A Panamanian cattleman is maintaining a narrow lead over a businessman in the country's tightest presidential election in recent years, following a campaign focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in Central America's trade and financial hub
11:32PM ( 52 minutes ago )
Month of Ramadan fasting for many Muslims begins Monday
Muslims in Southeast Asia and much of the Middle East will start their Ramadan fasts on Monday while those in places like India, Pakistan and Iran will likely start Islam's holy month on Tuesday
11:14PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump threatens to hike tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports
President Donald Trump has turned up the pressure on China ahead of trade talks this week by threatening to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods
11:03PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP source: Possible attack on US forces led to deployments
AP source: US defense official says military deployments to Middle East in response to indications that Iran and its proxy forces were preparing to possibly attack US forces
11:00PM ( 1 hour ago )