NIto Cortizo celebrates his victory. Photo: J. Cabezas Reuters
Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), a center-left party, won the presidential elections held in Panama on May 5 with 33.07% of votes. Heriberto Araúz, the president of the Electoral Court (TE), declared Cortizo as the new president of the country after counting 95% of the votes. The final results will be declared on May 9.
Cortizo beat Rómulo Roux of the center-right political party, Democratic Change, by a narrow margin of 2%. Roux got 31.07% of votes. In the third place was the independent candidate Ricardo Lombana, who received 19.35% of the votes. The other four candidates, José Blandón of the Panameñista Party, Saúl Méndez of the Frente Amplio por la Democracia and independent candidates Ana Matilde Gómez and Marco Ameglio shared the remaining 16% of the votes.
More than 2.7 million Panamanians were eligible to vote and about 72% of them exercised their franchise, according to the Electoral Court.
The TE declared the preliminary but “irreversible” results late night yesterday. Cortizo was leading the vote count in the last few hours but the center-right candidate, Roux refused to recognize the result due to a very close margin of votes. However, the current president Juan Carlos Varela called and congratulated Cortizo on his victory. In Panama, the presidential contest does not feature a run-off and so the candidate with the maximum number of votes wins, even if he does so with less than 50% of the votes.
Cortizo will assume office on July 1 for a term period of 5 years. He has promised to check corruption and effectively combat poverty and social inequality. He also promised to deal with issues pertaining to increasing unemployment, as well as the weakening of education, healthcare and security sectors.
The left-wing candidate, Saúl Méndez, is also a union leader from the Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Construcción y Similares (SUNTRACS). He too took a strong stance against corruption in his election campaign. With the idea of bringing Gente de Manos Limpios[People with Clean Hands] or non-corrupt people into power, he promoted the idea of structurally reforming Panamanian politics. He declared that under his governance, corruption would be punishable and the officials currently enjoying impunity in corruption cases will be swiftly punished. He also promised to ensure social equality by extensively working in the education and healthcare sectors.
Though Mendez fell short of the electoral victory, he promised to continue struggling for the betterment of the society. “We will continue betting on the constituent power, we will continue in the social struggle. As long as injustice continues, our fight will endure. We will never give up,” he tweeted.