Panama to elect new president against backdrop of social unrest and drought

Last Updated: June 19, 2024By

Race for Presidency: Mulino Cleared for the Top Spot


Panama’s top court just gave the thumbs-up to José Raúl Mulino’s presidential bid, bringing some clarity to the election chaos just two days before the big vote. But don’t let that fool you – Panama’s still a hot mess, with folks boiling over with anger, what with all the protests, the economy tanking, the Panama Canal drying up, and a mega copper mine going belly up.

Mulino’s sitting pretty in the polls, clocking in with 25-30% support, leaving his rivals, the lawyer Ricardo Lombana and ex-prez Martín Torrijos, trailing behind in the dust.

This Mulino dude wasn’t even on the radar until February when he swooped in to replace Ricardo Martinelli, the supermarket kingpin and ex-prez, whose dreams got squashed after he got slapped with a money laundering rap.

The court slapped down the argument that Mulino shouldn’t be allowed to run since he skipped the party prelims. So now it’s game on.

Current prez, Laurentino Cortizo, can’t run again, thank goodness. But let’s face it, he’s about as popular as a skunk in a perfume shop. His term’s been a rollercoaster of protests, first in 2022 when everyone got fed up with the high cost of living and crummy services, and then again in 2023 over some shady deal with the Cobre Panamá mine that ended up shutting it down.


Both times, the people made it clear they’re fed up with the Partido Revolucionario Democrático and its shady dealings. Corruption’s the name of the game here, thanks to the Panama Papers spill, and folks want change.

The economy’s taken a nosedive, too, with growth expected to crawl at 2.5% this year, down from a whopping 7.5% in 2023. Ouch.

But here’s the kicker: even with Martinelli’s dirty laundry out for all to see, people still kinda dig him. Why? ‘Cause back in the day when he was prez from 2009 to 2014, Panama was booming. Sure, he lined his pockets, but he got stuff done. That’s what they say, anyway.

So now Mulino’s promising to bring back the good ol’ days and even toss in a promise to seal off the Darién Gap, that gnarly jungle on the Colombia border that’s a freeway for migrants heading north.

Meanwhile, other candidates are all about their economic prowess and fighting corruption.

But let’s be real, whoever wins, they’re all singing the same tune: change the constitution, fix corruption, yada yada. And they’ve all jumped on the anti-mine protest bandwagon to score some points with the crowd.

But here’s the kicker: there ain’t much variety in the lineup. They’re all cut from the same political cloth, just different suits.

So what happens if Mulino takes the crown? Well, he’s promised to throw Martinelli a lifeline, who’s chilling in the Nicaraguan embassy to dodge a jail sentence, along with his trusty pooch, Bruno.

But whether Mulino’s the real deal or just Martinelli’s puppet, only time will tell. One thing’s for sure, though – whoever wins ain’t gonna have an easy ride. They’ll need to hustle and build some bridges if they wanna make anything happen.

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