Change of Command in Panama - Expat Community

Change of Command in Panama

May 7, 2024 | News & Articles, Panama | 0 comments


The conservative José Raúl Mulino secured a clear victory in Panama’s presidential elections on Sunday, promising to revive the economic prosperity of a decade ago. Mulino, elected president with just over a third of the votes, benefited from the support of the disqualified Ricardo Martinelli, the popular former president sentenced to over ten years in prison for money laundering, whom he replaced at the last minute on the ballot.

Despite Panamanians consistently ranking corruption as the country’s main issue in opinion polls, Martinelli’s unequivocal endorsement propelled Mulino to power. The former ruler campaigned decisively for his former Security Minister from the Nicaraguan Embassy in Panama City, where he has been since February, having received asylum from the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo to avoid the arrest warrant against him.

Mulino, a stern lawyer with few words and a tough stance on security and immigration, has become indelibly linked to Martinelli, who governed during a period of economic growth from 2009 to 2014, marked by the launch of multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects. Martinelli even visited him at the Nicaraguan embassy on election day, leaving no doubt about their close friendship. The nature of their relationship in the future is one of the biggest questions facing the incoming government. The president-elect is obligated to let justice take its course and not operate in favor of his mentor. Indeed, there are many examples in the region of political protégés quickly distancing themselves from their sponsors, as seen with Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Lenín Moreno in Ecuador, or Luis Arce in Bolivia.

Regardless, challenges await the next president of Panama, assuming office amid growing social unrest and a visibly exhausted political system. Mulino will need to address fiscal issues in a country accustomed to much higher growth rates than the projected 2.5% for this year. Environmental challenges are also pressing, evidenced by protests that led to the closure of a copper mine contributing nearly 5% of GDP, and a water crisis caused by drought affecting Panama Canal operations fed by Lake Gatun’s waters. Additionally, migratory challenges persist, such as the flow of hundreds of thousands of people crossing the inhospitable Darién jungle bordering Colombia. Following his victory, Mulino has pledged to form a national unity government, supportive of investment and free from political vendettas, to help steer the country forward.


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