Mulino in campaign photo

José Raúl Mulino, lawyer and former Minister of Security, was elected president of Panama in a vote that took place last Sunday (5). As an opponent of the current government, the conservative Mulino won the voters’ preference, with 34.35% of the votes, while his main opponent, Ricardo Lombana, from the center-right, obtained 25%. There is no second round in Panama.

Mulino, who was leading the polls before the vote, is considered the political heir of former president Ricardo Martinelli, whose government (2009-2014) was marked by economic prosperity, despite controversies. “Martinelli is Mulino and Mulino is Martinelli”, said the right-wing candidate’s campaign motto.

Martinelli, currently a refugee in the Nicaraguan embassy since February, was disqualified as a candidate after being convicted of money laundering, leaving Mulino as the main candidate of the Realizando Metas (RM) party, succeeding him in the electoral race. Although the government candidate was harmed by a corruption scandal in his government, Mulino is being elected under the electoral climate that Martineli “steals, but does”.

However, Mulino’s candidacy faced legal obstacles, being validated by the courts just two days before the vote. His name had initially been challenged for not having gone through primaries and for not having a vice president on the ticket.

Mulino, graduated in Law and Political Science from the Universidad Santa María la Antigua in Panama, is known for his work during the Martinelli government, holding the positions of Minister of Security and of Government and Justice. Despite having been pre-emptively arrested in 2015 on charges of crimes against public administration, the case was later annulled due to procedural errors.

The new president’s central proposal is to boost job creation through infrastructure projects and reduce migration through the Darién jungle, in Panama. He says he will promote “a government in favor of the private sector” and did not participate in any debates so as not to face accusations of corruption from the main opponent. Upon acknowledging defeat, Lombana warned the new president not to “depart from the popular will, not to dare to privatize education, not to use authoritarian methods to repress the people and not to renegotiate the controversial mining contract”.

This Sunday’s election also featured other important candidates, such as Martín Torrijos, son of former general and dictator Omar Torrijos, who negotiated with the US control over the Panama Canal during his presidential term (2004-2009), and José Gabriel Carrizo, current vice president of Panama, who was seeking a second term for his party, the Democratic Revolution.

Maribel Gordon, 62 years old, competes independently and presents the only left-wing candidate in the electoral dispute, with a program supported by popular movements in Panama. She appears with less than 5% of voting intentions

The current president, Laurentino Cortizo, has faced criticism for paying grants to politicians and their families, while the country’s economy, although it grew 7.3% in 2023, is expected to slow down to 2.5% this year, affected by issues such as drought in the Panama Canal and the closure of a copper mine following mass environmental protests.

With the conclusion of the vote, José Raúl Mulino assumes the presidency of Panama at a challenging time, with promises to promote the country’s economic and social development, while facing issues such as the drought affecting the Panama Canal and the closure of a mine copper after protests in defense of the environment.


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