Frustrated Panamians expect little change as they head to the polls

World Today

Frustrated Panamians expect little change as they head to the polls

Panama is set to pick its next President. 2.7 Million are registered to vote on Sunday.

But many among them are skeptical that a new President will change things.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg has more from the land that’s sometimes called ‘the bridge of the world.’

It’s hard to ignore the economic boom in Panama. The Central American nation boasts the region’s highest annual growth rate. But wages for many have stagnated. Last year, construction workers walked off the job for a month-long strike.
Voters in Panama are heading to the polls on Sunday to pick that country’s next president. 2.7 million people are eligible to cast ballots, but many frustrated voters expect little to change.

An hour outside of the capital, there’s little sign of this country’s wealth. Augustina Villareal raises her seven children in an illegally built tin-roof home near La Chorrera. “What the next government should do,” Villareal says, ” is going to these communities, they should visit us, and get us running water, electricity, and roads. That’s what these communities need.”
Much of Panama’s countryside lacks infrastructure. That’s a common complaint among rural voters. They say Panama’s almost exclusive focus on its finance-hub sector means their needs are often ignored.
Meanwhile, Panama’s farmers say they are facing more and more obstacles to growth. They accuse corrupt politicians of favoring imports … at their expense.
Efren Ortiz operates one of Panama’s biggest pig farms. He says he can’t compete with frozen pork products brought in from the U.S. “I think there needs to be a consensus between the government and the farmers,” Ortiz says. “Without it, a lot of people will be affected, and we’ll lose the producing-sector of our country. And a country that has no farms won’t be able to feed its people.”
The leading candidates in Sunday’s presidential vote have all promised to address these issues. Laurentio “Nito” Cortizo – of the centrist PRD – has vowed to strengthen government services to the country’s most-needy. And he’s promised to tackle corruption. So, too, has Romulo Roux – from the center-right CD.

He’s backed by Ricardo Martinelli, a popular former president who’s in prison awaiting trial on charges of political espionage. And then there’s the wild card. Ricardo Lombana — an independent. He’s pledged to up-end the whole political system in favor of the small government.

Panama City’s mayor, Jose Blandon, is the candidate from President Juan Carlos Varela’s Panameñista party. He hasn’t been endorsed by the President, nor even been seen with him. He and three others are polling quite low.
That may be less about them, and more a reflection of voter apathy and cynicism over what the future holds.