Polls closed in Panama's presidential election on Sunday and with over 90% reporting, Laurentino "Nito" Cortizo narrowly led with 33% of the vote over his closest rival, Romulo Roux with 31%. Cortizo declared himself the winner, while Roux did not concede defeat.
"I am very happy. It has been won, we have won. What we have to do now is join forces as a country," Cortizo told reporters, making a victory declaration before the country's electoral authority was ready to do so.
Roux told reporters that the results were too tight to concede defeat and suggested that the race was plagued by irregularities.
"We have to guarantee the protection of the electoral process and of democracy. Right now, it's in doubt," Roux said.
The presidential contest does not feature a run-off, so the candidate with the most votes will win, even if he does so with under 50% of the vote.
The tight vote is the sixth presidential election in the Central American country since a US invasion ousted strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989.
Corruption has been the main topic of the campaign, but Panamanian voters are also concerned about rising unemployment, the education system's decline, and the state of the capital Panama City's water service and garbage collection.
Three way race
Nito Cortizo had been pegged as likely to win the contest by pre-election polls. The 66-year-old former agriculture minister of the moderate left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), has sought to woo voters with an anti-corruption campaign and vowed to "rescue and transform Panama"
The message is bound to resonate with voters, as Panama's politicians have been implicated in the notorious region-wide Odebrecht bribery scandal and in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal that has tarnished the reputation of the country as an offshore tax haven.
Cortizo's closest rival is former Panama Canal Authority chairman Romulo Roux of the Democratic Change party. The 54-year-old businessman has sought to reach voters affected by the country's inequality and high living costs, who have not enjoyed the fruits of Panama's booming economy.
But Roux's candidacy is tainted by his close connections to supermarket magnate and former President Ricardo Martinelli, who is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of political espionage.
Behind Roux and Cotizo is the surprising candidacy of Ricardo Lombana, whose independent run was made possible throught he collection of thousands of signatures.
The 45-year-old former Panamanian consul to Washington has campaigned against corruption and Panama's traditional parties.
"Independent candidates have surged because citizens are fed up with what partisan politics have brought the country; they are fed up with corruption," he told reporters before voting on Sunday.
Some 2.7 million citizens are eligible to vote in Sunday's general election. On Sunday, Panamanians turned out in large numbers, with the country's Electoral Tribunal saying that turnout could reach 80%.
Panama is a strategic location for commerce in the region, anchored by the heavily trafficked Panama Canal shipping route and a recently expanded international airport.
The Central American nation is one of the world's fastest-growing economies and has recently attracted increased interest from China.
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.