Mulino Still Leads The Polls For May 5 Presidential Election


(MENAFN- Newsroom Panama) The former president's proxy candidate, José Raúl Mulino, leads the polls
ahead of the May 5
vote but Martinelli's shadow still dominates the Panama election. In recent weeks, Nicaragua's tiny embassy in Panama City has been inundated with lawyers, politicians, family members, and a troop of workmen carrying out renovations for its most famous guest. In February, Ricardo Martinelli, a billionaire businessman and former president, sought asylum there after local courts ratified his 10-year+ prison sentence for money laundering and declared his bid for president illegal.
Ever since that time, through his social media and that of his dog Bruno, Martinelli has been campaigning heavily, behind the scenes, ahead of Panama's general election on May 5.


Martinelli is backing the candidacy of José Raúl Mulino, who was his running mate before he was banned from the race and had served as public security minister during Martinelli's administration (2009-14).
Before he was banned, Martinelli held a comfortable lead in the polls
, and now Mulino regularly polls
13-25 percentage points ahead of his three closest rivals: Ricardo Lombana, former President Martín Torrijos, and Rómulo Roux. Panamanian elections
have no second round; meaning Mulino is likely to win the race for the Palacio de las Garzas, the presidential palace that overlooks the bay of Panama.
Less than a month before the election, the Constitutional Court is weighing whether to revoke Mulino's candidacy as well, on what amounts to a technicality: he wasn't chosen through his party's primaries (as Martinelli was before his ban).

In recent weeks, his rivals have concentrated their attacks
on Mulino, but he has not participated in televised debates and has largely avoided interviews.
I happened to bump into him at the David airport last week on one of his country tours but we didn't have time for an interview.
Just pleasantries and we moved on.
José Raúl Mulino is very much a statesman and a gentleman, and will make a great President.
Voters have heard little about his specific policy proposals for a country facing urgent challenges. The closure of the Cobre Panamá mine is projected to inflict a 4% loss of GDP, the social security system faces an existential liquidity crisis, and external debt has risen 78% to $47 billion under the term of outgoing president Nito Cortizo.
On April 1 Fitch Ratings
downgraded
Panama's sovereign debt from investment grade. Meanwhile, delays to shipping due to water shortages at the Panama Canal, and record waves of migration passing through the Darién Gap
have made international headlines.


Instead of policy, Mulino is leaning on Martinelli's reputation, promising to put more
chen chén-the local slang for cash-in people's pockets. Many voters remember the economic boom of Martinelli's presidency when GDP growth regularly topped 6% and the completion of metro lines in Panama City provided jobs and made the amenities of the city center more accessible to the urban poor.
The roads were greatly improved from Boquete, all the way to Panama City.
Martinelli did some great things for Panama's infrastructure and is being remembered for it.
Similarly, Mulino promises 7% growth, greater youth employment, the highest minimum wage in Latin America, and major infrastructure projects such as a train from Panama City to David.
He has also vowed to help Martinelli in any way that he can to reduce or fix his prison sentence.


However, the growth under Martinelli had little to do with his skill as an economic manager and will be impossible to replicate under a Mulino government
, according to Dulcidio de La Guardia, who served as vice minister of finance under Martinelli.“Panama was riding the wave of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the investments it brought into the country, which gave the Martinelli administration the ability to spend and invest money that they could not have done otherwise.
The second pillar of Martinelli's popularity is his cultivated persona as a political outsider and a dedicated antagonist of the
rabiblancos,
Panama's political and economic elite. In 2022 and 2023, Panama was rocked by two unprecedented protest movements. The first was sparked
by the rising cost of living, deficient social services, and Panama's reputation as one of the region's most unequal countries, and the second erupted in opposition to the government
's rushed and opaque renegotiation of the massive Cobre Panamá mine contract.


Both movements revealed broad public mistrust of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) and the wider political-economic elite for their involvement in a slew of corruption
scandals and for failing to meet the needs of the public. A 2023 survey
found that over two-thirds of Panamanians wanted radical change, with corruption
identified as the country's biggest problem.
The prospect of the Constitutional Court revoking Mulino's candidacy only adds to the impression, held by many, that the
rabiblancos are unfairly singling Martinelli out.
His defiant social media posts, often recorded from the Nicaraguan embassy's home gym, pander to his image as a victim of political persecution.


“The Panamanian voter identifies with the underdog,” Miguel Antonio Bernal, a lawyer and political commentator said.
“There are many voters who say,“I'm going to vote for Mulino to screw with the political classes, because I'm tired of all this.”
Martinelli may be corrupt, but the current attempts to ban Mulino's candidacy are an example of the Electoral Tribunal bypassing due process and bowing to the demands of the elites, according to Bernal.
It represents a far wider decay of the country's institutions, where the Congress, in particular, has been infected by money originating from drug gangs. Recently, the Electoral Tribunal expressed concern about the level of drug money
in campaign financing, and last year, the National Assembly twice rejected a law giving the state greater power to seize
assets from the illicit businesses.
“We're becoming less of a society every day,” Bernal said.“After the U.S. invasion of 1989 we were put in a zoo. Now the current government
arrived and we have returned to the jungle.”

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