Panama Elections 2019
On Sunday, May 5th the people of Panama went to the polls to decide who would be their next President. Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party was victorious in what was a closely contended race. However, there were several interesting takeaways from the polls.
First of all was just how close the polls were. It was expected that the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) would thrive during this past election cycle. There were a total of seven candidates for President of which three of them were first time candidates after recent changes to the electoral system. This presented an opportunity which if Mr Cortizo were actually able to consolidate his base he could have cruised to an easy victory. He was barely able to do so and collected just 33% of the vote.
What has to be considered to be a surprise was the strong showing of the Democratic Change Party. Its candidate Romulo Roux was able to garner 31% of the vote. This came despite a huge blow delivered to the party when the electoral tribunal banned former President Martinelli from running for mayor of Panama City and from the National Assembly in a ruling that was at best shady.
Mr. Martinelli was certified on more than one occasion for meeting the requirement to be a legal candidate prior to the abrupt denial. The perception of Mr. Martinelli being treated unfairly during his trial was a factor in the surprisingly strong showing of the Roux Campaign.
The closeness of the vote suggests that the the electorate is far from apathetic when it comes to their democracy. Another interesting fact that supports this is the fact of during the last six Presidential Polls going back to 1990 the incumbent party has failed to win Reelection. This trend actually played out again during these polls.
Moving forward what are the key issues that the Cortizo Administration will face during its upcoming term? Income inequality is a rising concern as the gap between the haves and the have-nots continue to widen. Corruption has been endemic in the nation’s history as well and is the obvious area of concern that needs to be addressed.
The actions of the failed law firm Mossack Fonseca is showing how Panama is an offshore tax haven is an image that most likely takes some time for the country to recover from.
While the GDP growth of between 4 and 5% expected during this it shows that the Panamanian Economy is the fast growing in the hemisphere. However, that has not translated well to the middle class of the country which has been losing ground in term of both wage growth and in the purchasing power of the Balboa over recent years. They are not pleased with what has transpired as well.
The Education system is both expensive and underperforming as well. Reform in this institution is sorely needed as well to prevent a brain drain from taking place.
However what could be the major challenge of the Cortizo Administration could be its role in a future superpower brinkmanship between China and the United States. Panama is one nation which has seen an increase in what is considered to be “debt-trap” investments from China. President Cortizo has stated that he welcomes the new relationship with China but he does not want one at the expense of the traditional ally that Panama has had since it gained independence from Colombia back in 1903. That would be the United States. How he manages this could in fact be the toughest challenge for Cortizo.