With 95% of votes counted, Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo has been confirmed as the winner of the presidential election. The poll has been overshadowed by corruption scandals.
The Panama Electoral Tribunal on Monday announced Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo had emerged victorious in the country’s presidential election.
“Panama won today, and today more than ever, Panama needs to join forces,” Cortizo told cheering supporters in a midnight speech at his campaign hotel.
Cortizo, the candidate for the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party, had earlier declared himself the winner before the electoral authority was ready to do so.
His closest rival — Romulo Roux from former President Ricardo Martinelli’s right-wing Democratic Change party — said that the results were too tight to concede defeat and suggested that the race was plagued by irregularities.
“We have to guarantee the protection of the electoral process and of democracy. Right now, it’s in doubt,” Roux said.
Cortizo had 33% of the votes and Roux 31%, in what was an unexpectedly close race. The results are preliminary, but “irreversible” the tribunal said.
The presidential contest does not feature a run-off, so the candidate with the most votes wins, even if he does so with less than 50% of the vote.
It is the sixth presidential election in the Central American country since a US invasion ousted strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989.
‘The chaos is over’
During his campaign, Cortizo, a US-educated former agriculture minister, vowed to clean up Panama’s political scene, following a corruption scandal involving Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht, and the Panama Papers leak of millions of documents detailing tax evasion by the world’s wealthy.
“Panamanians don’t want, or merit, and won’t put up with more of the same,” Cortizo added. “The chaos is over. Public funds belong to the public, and they are sacred.”
Other issues included rising unemployment, the education system’s decline, and the state of the capital Panama City’s water service and garbage collection.
Panama is a strategic location for commerce in the region, anchored by the heavily trafficked Panama Canal shipping route and a recently expanded international airport.
The Central American nation is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and has recently attracted increased interest from China.
law/rt (Reuters, AP, EFE)