Home South America Convicted Former Leader’s Campaign Ensures His Protégé Mulino Becomes Panama’s Next President

Convicted Former Leader’s Campaign Ensures His Protégé Mulino Becomes Panama’s Next President

Mulino Panama elections
Presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino waves on stage as his wife Marisel Cohen de Mulino looks towards him after he was declared the winner of the presidential election based on preliminary results by the electoral authority, in Panama City, Panama, May 5, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Panama’s Jose Raul Mulino on Sunday stormed to victory in a presidential poll dominated by his old boss and former president Ricardo Martinelli. Martinelli buttressed his campaign despite being holed up in Nicaragua’s embassy.

Martinelli who is currently in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama has been banned from running after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for money laundering. He however continues to have a strong influence on Panama’s politics through social media.

The 64-year-old former security minister had nearly 35% of the votes with more than 92% of the votes counted, giving him a nine-point lead over his nearest competitor. Ricardo Lombana, who trailed in second place with about 25% of the vote, congratulated Mulino on his victory.

“Mission accomplished, damn it,” Mulino told his supporters to loud cheers and applause. “To Ricardo Martinelli, friend, mission accomplished as well.”

The presidential race had been in uncertain waters until Friday morning, when Panama’s Supreme Court ruled that Mulino was permitted to run. It said he was eligible despite allegations that his candidacy wasn’t legitimate because he wasn’t elected in a primary. The election saw an unprecedented turnout of 77% with an unprecedented show of support for Mulino.

However, the new president will have to get down to work quickly. Among his top priorities will be fixing Panama’s pressing economic problems, tackling corruption, and restoring the country’s reputation as an investment haven. This will be no easy task given that anti-government protests have gone on for weeks in the run-up to the election.

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Migration is also an issue. After a record 520,000 migrants last year crossed the treacherous jungle that connects Panama and Colombia, known as the Darien Gap, migration is also on voters’ minds. Some candidates have vowed to open up the path, which could increase migration flows into Panama, while others want to boost controls to shut it down completely.

Mulino has promised to usher in prosperity through ambitious infrastructure investment and a higher minimum wage. He has suggested he will keep Martinelli out of jail. He will take office on July 1 for a five-year term.


(With inputs from Reuters & other agencies)