Panama’s 2019 Election

Panama will hold it’s general elections to elect a new President and Vice President on May 5, 2019. With the upcoming election polls show corruption is a top voters concern.

Along with a new President and VP May 5ths elections will elect 71 seats in the unicameral Congress, and 81 mayors. The elephant in the room, Panama City’s mayoral race featuring Panama’s ex-President Ricardo Martinelli running from prison. Martinelli has been making headlines this month, as he stands trial for illegal wiretappings during his administration (2009–2014)., while his lawyer pleas he is, "mentally unfit to stand trial".

Polls show that Panama will likely return to supporting the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), as Panamanian’s rarely elect the same party twice.

With the campaign season officially kicking off this month, you have probably seen campaign ads from these four candidates

1) Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo of Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)

Nito Cortizo who is 66 years old started his career in construction and livestock companies. He entered the political world in 1994 becoming President of the National Assembly 2000 and 2001 and serving as agricultural minister under President Martín Torrijos in 2004. 

Nito Cortizo’s platform is focused on combating inequality and poverty in the country. Here is what he pledges: 

On corruption: Build a strong government team and strategy committed to transparency and dignity, and reform the way contracts are awarded to avoid favoring certain companies.

On the Constitution: Try to pass a new Constitution with the National Assembly that will be elected May 5, and in the case the new legislature won’t pass it, convene a constituent assembly.

On agriculture: Boost production with updated technology, stop importing during harvest season, and replacing the Aupsa (Panama’s food safety authority), an entity Cortizo helped create but that’s come under criticism for favoring special interests and foreign producers.

On trade: Explore external markets while prioritizing domestic producers.

On health: Depoliticize and improve the public health system via better coordination and planning, root out corruption and inefficiencies without privatizing, and guarantee medicinal inventory.

On education: Focus on teacher training and evaluation systems that improve educators’ training and boost salaries.

2) Rómulo Roux or the Democratic Change (CD)

The 54-year-old presidential candidate is a U.S.-trained lawyer with degrees from Babson College, the University of Miami, and Northwestern University. Roux has served in various governmental positions including chairman of the Panama Canal Authority, minister of canal affairs, president of the Panama Water Authority Committee, and as minister of foreign affairs.

Roux’s platform focus is the "return to good government,” which he argues the CD can accomplish. 

On corruption: Carry out transparency measures in the first six months of his administration, with a zero-tolerance policy toward corruption in his administration, and greater accountability.

On the Constitution: Have the current legislature initiate a constitutional reform that strengthens the independence of the judicial branch. The next elected Assembly will finish the new draft.

On agriculture: Prioritize and protect national producers with a new legal framework that eliminates the Aupsa and turn the sector into a principal driver of job creation and economic growth.

On education: Guarantee scholarship programs to reduce the dropout rate.

3) José Isabel Blandon of the Panameñista Party (PP)

Blandon, 51 is currently the mayor of Panama City. He studied law and was a political activist who was against the 1988 dictatorship. Blandon took a seat in the National Assembly in 1994, serving in Congress until 2014 when he became mayor. 

As Mayor Blandon focused on transportation and infrastructure, in the first presidential debate, Blandon platform was made the following point: 

On corruption: Start taking transparency measures in the first week of his mandate, change the way in which legislators are elected, as well as reduce their term limits and salaries.

On the Constitution: Write a new constitution via a constituent assembly.

On agriculture: Eliminate the Aupsa and allocate a higher budget to make the sector more competitive.

On trade: Combat illegal imports and improve the execution of trade agreements, which have favored the interest of importers over national producers.

On health: Confront special interest groups and apply strategic funds to purchase medicines at lower costs.

On social security: Increase transparency and efficiency of the current system through public studies and review.

On education: Decentralize the education system and assign 6 percent of GDP to education and 1 percent to science and technology.

4) Ana Matilde Gómez running as an Independent

Gómez is the only independent candidate polling above 5 percent, she became Panama’s first female attorney general in 2005. Gómez has served through two presidencies and in 2014 she became the first independent deputy in Congress. Gómez’s campaign is for a "different Panama" her pledges:

On corruption: Depoliticize and renew the judicial branch by taking away the president’s power to name judges.

On the Constitution: Convene a constituent assembly with the public’s participation and propose new Magna Carta by the end of her first year in office.

On agriculture: Gradually increase production, prioritize buying all nationally produced goods for domestic consumption, stop importing during harvest seasons, and create a fund for job training in the sector.

On trade: Review FTAs and commercial partnerships regularly

On health: Reduce the costs of medicine, create more local health clinics for primary and preventative care, expand room capacity for patients.

On education: Depoliticize the Education Ministry, build schools in rural areas, guarantee student meals.

Also in the running are independent candidates Ricardo Lombana and Marco Ameglio, as well as Saúl Mendez of the Broad Front for Democracy. These candidates are each polling below 5 percent.

Information from the Americas Society / Council of the Americas an international source that aims to unite opinion leaders to exchange ideas and create solutions to the challenges of the Americas today.