Panama appears to have elected a new president after receiving 33 percent of the vote in a country steeped in corruption and rampant inequality.
The Democratic Revolutionary Change candidate Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo faces an uphill battle when he takes office July 1. He ended up with a 2-percentage point lead over his closest opponent, right-wing Democratic Change candidate Romulo Roux.
“Panama decided its future,” Cortizo said.
He pledged to work tirelessly over his five-year term to make Panama a just and prosperous country.
Roux refused to concede, arguing that there were irregularities in the results.
Cortizo, whose father was a Spanish immigrant, addressed corruption in his speech to supporters.
“I didn’t get to power to steal, or repay favors to big economic and political groups,” Cortizo said. “In Panama, there won’t be anyone who’s untouchable.”
Cortizo studied business at the University of Texas at Austin and has led two construction companies and a livestock business since 1985.
Election tribunal magistrate Heriberto Arauz called it a “precedent in Panamanian election history.” With 92 percent of polling stations reporting, Arauz refused to name Cortizo as the president-elect. Independent candidate Ricardo Lombana received 19 percent of the vote. The remaining four candidates got less than that.
Results are still coming in for elections for the 71-member National Assembly and hundreds of local government officials.
Panama’s GDP per capita is nearly $16,000, among the highest for Latin America and more than Hungary and Croatia.