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The main candidates vying to become president of Panama

Panama’s presidential candidates (from left to right) Ricardo Lombana, Jose Raul Mulino, Romulo Roux and Martin Torrijos – Copyright AFP/File MARTIN BERNETTI

Juan Jose Rodriguez

A former president from a prestigious family, a strong-willed political veteran, a rocking ex-consul and a tattooed ex-minister of foreign affairs are among the candidates vying to become Panama’s next president.

Here are profiles of the leading contenders in Sunday’s election, which will be decided by a simple majority.

Mulino: the replacement

Former Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino, 64, left his farm and horses with his sights set on becoming vice president under his former boss, ex-President Ricardo Martinelli.

But in March, Martinelli was disqualified from running for president – a month after he lost his last attempt to avoid prison for money laundering and sought asylum at the Nicaraguan embassy.

Mulino stepped into his shoes even though he faced a legal challenge for failing to participate in a primary or choose a running mate as required by law.

Panama’s Supreme Court approved his candidacy just two days before election day.

According to opinion polls, Mulino is the clear frontrunner with more than 30 percent of voters.

The candidate of the right-wing Realizing Goals party – who previously also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice – uses the slogan ‘Mulino is Martinelli’.

Mulino, a lawyer by profession, has promised to close the dangerous migration route through the Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama.

He was held in preventive detention from 2015 to 2016 for alleged corruption, but was released due to procedural errors.

Torrijos: the general’s son

Martin Torrijos, who served as president from 2004-2009, returns to the ring after a battle with the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party he once represented.

He accuses the movement his father founded 45 years ago of corruption and abandoning social democratic ideals.

Seeking re-election “was a decision of conscience,” said the 60-year-old son of the late General Omar Torrijos – the nationalist leader who signed the treaty with former US President Jimmy Carter that returned control of the Panama Canal to the Central American country .

As president, the economics graduate from Texas A&M University and Real Madrid fan promoted the expansion of the interoceanic canal to generate jobs.

He has faced questions about contracts awarded under his watch to Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company at the center of a major bribery scandal, but has denied any wrongdoing.

Torrijos is now running as a candidate for the small Christian Democratic People’s Party.

Lombana: the anti-graft axeman

Ricardo Lombana has protested against corruption for years.

The 50-year-old, who is making his second presidential bid, has pledged to limit the use of public funds and abolish the privileges of senior officials.

“The corrupt must prepare themselves because the party is going to end,” he told AFP.

Lombana posed for photos holding an ax as a symbol of his campaign promises and drew comparisons to Argentine President Javier Milei’s chainsaw.

He joined former officials and independents, especially young people and opponents of mining, into his center-right party, the Another Way Movement.

The Chicago Cubs fan, lawyer and former consul general in Washington has pledged to reduce electricity costs through solar power generation.

He is the youngest election candidate, combines politics with a passion for drums and is an admirer of Neil Peart – the late drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock group Rush.

Roux: the ally became a rival

Romulo Roux, who came second in the 2019 presidential election, was foreign minister and minister in charge of the Panama Canal in Martinelli’s government.

But when the former president became embroiled in legal troubles, Roux managed to take control of Democratic Change, the center-right party founded by Martinelli in 1998.

The 59-year-old lawyer works with the right-wing Panamenista Party.

Roux has come under scrutiny for his ties to a law firm linked to a copper mine that sparked mass protests in late 2023.

With the birthdates of his seven children tattooed on one arm, he has pledged to create 500,000 jobs and implement anti-corruption reforms.

The Real Madrid fan and TikTok user is the candidate most open to the idea of ​​allowing civil unions for same-sex couples.