Court in Panama rules that leading candidate Mulino can remain in the presidential race | Elections News

The decision removes uncertainty about Mulino’s eligibility, just two days before elections in the Central American country.

Panama’s Supreme Court has ruled that front-runner Jose Raul Mulino is eligible to participate in the Central American country’s presidential elections.

Friday’s ruling came just two days before the election and ends the uncertainty that has hung over Mulino’s campaign since he replaced former President Ricardo Martinelli as the candidate for the right-wing Realizando Metas (Realization of Goals) party.

Mulino had been Martinelli’s running mate but rose to the top after Martinelli lost his appeal to overturn his money laundering conviction, which carries a prison sentence of 11 years.

Panama’s electoral tribunal barred Martinelli from running in the elections in March, citing a provision in the constitution that bars anyone sentenced to five years or more from holding elected office.

The tribunal then allowed Mulino, a lawyer who had previously served in Martinelli’s government, to stand for election despite the fact that he did not comply with a law requiring presidential candidates to participate in a party primary and a running degree to choose from. That decision was challenged before the country’s highest court, which ruled on Friday that Mulino’s candidacy did not violate the constitution.

Magistrate Maria Eugenia Lopez, the president of the Supreme Court, told reporters that the lawyers rejected the challenge by an 8-1 margin and were persuaded to do so by the right of Panamanians “to choose and be elected, and by political pluralism.” .

“What has set in motion this constitutional tribunal at the historical moment in which we find ourselves is the defense of our country and democracy, but also of institutional, social peace, the right to choose and be elected, political pluralism and let us not forget the important role played by the political parties,” she said, reading a statement on behalf of the court.

While voters say he lacks Martinelli’s charisma, the 64-year-old Mulino has been close to his former running mate’s policies. According to the most recent polls, he leads the crowded field of eight candidates with more than 30 percent support.

He has also received vocal support from Martinelli, who has remained in Nicaragua’s embassy in Panama after being granted political asylum by Managua.

The former president posted on his X account that the decision “will set an example for future electoral processes.”

He added: “Truth, justice and righteousness will always prevail in the end.”

Mulino has pledged to restore the economic prosperity of Martinelli’s 2009-2014 presidency and crack down on migration through the Darien Gap jungle, which reached record numbers last year.

But corruption also looms as a defining issue in opinion polls, with all eight contenders vowing to tackle the problem. Seven of the candidates are considered conservative, with only incumbent economist Maribel Gordon representing the left.

Polls show former President Martin Torrijos is closest behind Mulino heading into Sunday’s election, but he has just 5 percent of the vote.

Mulino has served as minister of foreign affairs and justice, but rose to prominence as Martinelli’s security minister.

He was widely condemned for the violent crackdown on indigenous workers protesting conditions on banana plantations in 2010. The clashes left two people dead and more than a hundred injured.