Opposition leader Cortizo wins Panama presidential elections by close margin
PANAMA CITY. KAZINFORM Opposition presidential candidate Laurentino Cortizo on Sunday registered a closely-fought victory in Panama's general election and made an appeal for national unity to carry forward his main campaign promises - anti-corruption fight and economic recovery of the country, EFE reports.
Cortizo, a former minister with a nationalist agenda who represents the Democratic Revolutionary party, was declared the president-elect after a historically narrow election result saw a difference of less than 40,000 votes between the first and second-placed candidates.
The Electoral Tribunal had to postpone the announcement of the winner until the difference in votes yet to be counted did not affect the outcome of the contest between Cortizo and Romulo Roux of the Democratic Change party.
The results were finally announced after midnight.
Roux, who received 31 percent of the votes, told EFE a little before the Tribunal's announcement that if the electoral magistrates called Cortizo to inform him that he was the virtual winner of the contest, he would not acknowledge the "contents of that call".
"We will wait for the actual records, and on the basis of that, we will follow and obey what the records say," Rouz said, adding that there had never been an election in Panama with such a small margin.
He alleged irregularities in the electoral process, a claim which has been rejected the tribunal.
However, former president and the founder of Democratic Change, Ricardo Martinelli - who had been put under preventive arrest during a trial on charges of political espionage and corruption - accepted Cortizo's victory.
"I want to congratulate Nito (as Cortizo is popularly called) and the DRP for their unofficial victory.
They have a great responsibility of reuniting Panamanians and taking us out of the mess created by (current president Juan Carlos) Varela. God bless us all," Martinelli tweeted.
In his victory speech, Cortizo urged the country to unite in order to face the major challenges of institutional reforms and economic recovery starting Jul. 1, when the term of the 2019-2024 government is set to start.
"The victory is ours (...) today Panama won," a euphoric Cortizo said.
He added that he was prepared to take the reins of the country along with a team which included a young man who was "talented, qualified and committed to the country", referring to his vice-presidential candidate Gabriel Carrizo.
Responding to Roux's allegations, the president-elect said such things were part of democracy and added that fortunately Panama had an Electoral Tribunal which had proved that it was "very balanced."
"Panamanians, sleep peacefully, political parties' right to issue observations and claim discrepancies is a democratic right (...) we are talking about a difference of 40,000 votes, almost twice (the size of the soccer stadium) Rommel Fernandez," Cortizo said, reffering to the stadium named after the Panamanian football star.
Almost all pollsters had predicted a close fight between Cortizo and Roux, although most had given a margin of at least 10 percentage point to Cortizo, with just one survey putting Roux in front with a two percent margin.
Cortizo's almost certain victory confirms a trend rarely broken in Panama's young, three-decade old democracy: it is the opposition which wins elections.
However, Sunday's results are first-of-their-kind not just for the small margin, but also due to the surge in support for independent forces, who raised the slogan of "no to reelecting", mainly aimed at members of the unicameral parliament, which also ended up affecting the presidential results.
The results put independent candidate Ricardo Lombana in the third place with a little over 19 percent votes, and the lawyer said that this mandate of nearly 400,000 people meant that "another path was possible for Pamana."
"We will follow the road to 2024. (...) In 2024 we will return! We will be back," Lombana told his supporters, promising to form an opposition which would be constructive but unyielding in the face of wasting of resources and corruption scandals.
Jose Blandon, candidate of the governing Panameñista Party, suffered a massive defeat, coming 4th with around 10.4 percent votes, and said that the result will force the party to "review and renovate" for the next elections in 2024.
More than 2.7 million people had been registered to vote in the elections to choose the president, the vice-president as well as members of the National Assembly and Central American Parliament, mayors, district representatives and councilors.