Home Latin America Who are the frontrunners in Panama’s election?

Who are the frontrunners in Panama’s election?


On Sunday Panamanians are electing a successor to President Juan Carlos Varela. Voters say their main concern is corruption after allegations of massive bribes paid to Panamanian officials by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. We take a closer look at the two leading candidates.

Laurentino Cortizo: 'Good government for those who have least'

Key facts:

  • Nicknamed "Nito"
  • Worked in construction and livestock industries
  • Former lawmaker who presided over Panama's Legislative Assembly from 1994-2004
  • Former agriculture minister
  • Loves football and American football

The 66-year-old candidate for the centre-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is the front-runner in opinion polls.

His party, founded by military ruler Omar Torrijos in 1979, has been out of power since 2009.

Mr Cortizo has accused Mr Varela of corruption, alleging that his campaign took bribes from Odebrecht, an allegation denied by the outgoing president.

Mr Cortizo has vowed to fight corruption by reforming laws that govern how public contracts are awarded.

He says that if elected, he will reform the education system so that it becomes "the star that will light up" his government.

He has also promised to create a "good government for those who have the least".

Rómulo Roux: 'Transparency and an end to corruption'

Key facts:

  • Worked as a lawyer before joining the government of Ricardo Martinelli in 2009
  • Served as president of the board of directors of the Panama Canal Authority
  • Was minister of canal affairs from 2009 to 2012 and foreign minister in 2012-2013
  • Broke with President Martinelli after the ex-leader was arrested
  • Father of seven children

Mr Cortizo's main rival for the presidency is Rómulo Roux of the centre-right Democratic Change Party. The 54-year-old business-friendly candidate has promised to boost economic growth and provide Panamanians with better access to basic public services.

He says that if elected, he will "eliminate corruption", govern with "transparency" and regain the people's "trust in the agencies of the state".

Despite such promises, he is trailing behind Nito Cortizo by about 30 percentage points in pre-election opinion polls.

His opponents have used his links to ex-President Ricardo Martinelli, who is in prison on charges of spying on political opponents and journalists, to try and damage Mr Roux.

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