Laurentino Cortizo declared winner of Panama Presidential vote

World Today

Panama’s presidential candidate for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) Laurentino Cortizo (C) delivers a speech after being elected President of Panama, in Panama City on May 5, 2019. – Social Democrat Laurentino Cortizo won Panama’s presidential election on May 5 in a close race that saw a large number of voters turn out amid concerns over corruption scandals and the country’s image as a money-launderer’s paradise. (Photo by Luis Acosta / AFP)

Laurentino Cortizo wins Panama’s presidential election.

His margin of victory: just 2-percentage points.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

Laurentino Cortizo was the frontrunner in Sunday’s vote. 

On the campaign trail, the former agriculture minister – known as “Nito” – vowed to tackle graft and corruption, and to restore Panama’s image abroad. The small Central American nation was recently at the center of a massive international tax scandal.

Ultimately, when all the votes were counted, Cortizo emerged the winner. But not by much.

“Tomorrow, there will only be one flag, above all of the parties: the flag of Panama.  No minister, no lawmaker, no businessman, will be untouchable. We have to fight,” said President-elect Cortizo.

Romulo Roux, the former Foreign Minister, managed to close-in on Cortizo’s lead. Roux had promised to fix the economy and to restore Panama to its heyday of double-digit growth. He was endorsed by Panama’s former president, Ricardo Martinelli, who remains very popular among Panamanian voters even though he is in jail awaiting trial on charges of political espionage.

Many voters also chose to back an independent candidate Ricardo Lombana. Lombana is a young journalist and lawyer who was hoping to up-end the political establishment. But in placing a respectable third – out of seven – some say, Lombana managed to send a clear message to anyone willing to listen.

Panama’s constitution limits the Presidency to one five-year term, which means the current President, Juan Carlos Varela, was not able to run.  He will leave office on July 1st, when the next president is sworn-in.

Part of Varela’s legacy will be Panama’s newly established diplomatic relations with China. The move brought increased Chinese investment projects, but also raised eyebrows in Washington.

On Sunday, Cortizo said he had already spoken with Beijing’s envoy.

“I have had a very honest, direct and respectful conversation with the Chinese ambassador, whom I respect very much. He’s a great diplomat. Obviously, we were clear, and he understands that we have a strategic relationship with the United States. They are our main partners,” Cortizo said.

Cortizo also said he would continue to work to deepen relations with Beijing, but warned that as President, he might move things along more slowly. 

Remi Piet on Panama’s economic future under new leadership

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke with Remi Piet, research associate on Political Economy and Foreign Policy at the Florida International University, and senior director at Americas Market Intelligence about the future of Panama’s economy under new leadership.