The Panama Electoral Tribunal on Monday announced Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo winning the country’s presidential election.
“Panama won today, and today more than ever, Panama needs to join forces,” former agriculture minister, Cortizo, who will formally be named president-elect on Thursday, told cheering supporters in a midnight speech at his campaign hotel.
Cortizo, the candidate for the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party, had earlier declared himself the winner before the Electoral Tribunal.
His closest rival — Romulo Roux from former President Ricardo Martinelli’s Democratic Change party — said that the results were too tight to concede defeat and suggested “irregularities”.
“We have to guarantee the protection of the electoral process and of democracy. Right now, it’s in doubt,” Roux said.
Cortizo had 33% of the votes and Roux 31%. The results are preliminary, but “irreversible” the tribunal said.
The presidential contest does not feature a run-off, so the candidate with the most votes wins, even if he does so with less than 50% of the vote.
This presidential election is Panama’s sixth since the ousting of strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989.
The chaos is over’
During his campaign, Cortizo, US-educated former agriculture minister, vowed to clean up Panama’s political scene, following a corruption scandal involving Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht, and the Panama Papers leak of millions of documents detailing tax evasion by the world’s wealthy.
“Panamanians don’t want, or merit, and won’t put up with more of the same,” Cortizo added. “The chaos is over. Public funds belong to the public, and they are sacred.”
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.
Panama is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and has recently attracted increased interest from China.
Reuters, AP, EFE