IR INSIDER

Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

Laurentino Cortizo Becomes New President-Elect of Panama

Candidate Laurentino Cortizo won the presidential elections of Panama with 33% of the vote, becoming Panama’s new President-elect. President-elect Cortizo will assume the presidency on July 1.

President-elect Cortizo is photographed in front of a large panel that reads: “Thank you, People of Panama”. Photo: Reuters/ BBC

President-elect Cortizo is photographed in front of a large panel that reads: “Thank you, People of Panama”. Photo: Reuters/BBC

President-elect Cortizo addressed the Panamanian people to celebrate his victory, “Together we are going to join forces to transform Panama. I will not let you down... I have no doubt that better days are on the way”.

These elections mark Panama’s sixth presidential race since the fall of Dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989, ousted by the United States.

Cortizo has been described as both a centrist and center-left candidate. President-elect Cortizo beat his opponent, center-right or right-wing candidate Rómulo Roux, by a mere two points.

President-elect Cortizo with his wife, future First Lady Yazmin Colón. Photo: Carlos Jasso/ Reuters

President-elect Cortizo with his wife, future First Lady Yazmin Colón. Photo: Carlos Jasso/Reuters

Due to the unanticipated approximation between the two leading candidates, the Election tribunal did not announce Cortizo as the victorious candidate and President-elect until nearly midnight local time, after upwards of 92 percent of the votes had been counted.  

Magistrate Heriberto Arauz of the Election tribunal called these elections “a precedent in Panamanian election history.”

Candidate Roux did not concede on election night, claiming there were instances of voting irregularities and his party awaits a review of the results.  

President-elect Cortizo previously served as a member of the National Assembly from 1994 to 2004. Cortizo became Minister of Agriculture in 2004, but resigned in 2006 in protest of the negotiations in the US-Panama Free Trade Agreement that resulted in various concessions on behalf of Panama.

President-elect Cortizo has expressed his desire to strengthen Panama’s relationship with the United States, “The United States is our strategic partner, our main strategic partner. This relationship has to improve.”

President-elect Cortizo is the candidate for Panama’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático), founded in 1979 by military dictator Omar Torrijos. The Democratic Revolutionary Party has not been in party since 2009.

The presidential race has been centered around tackling corruption in Panama. Former President Ricardo Martinelli is in prison for allegedly spying on political rivals through illegal wiretaps, and current President Juan Carlos Varela’s government has been implicated with various corruption scandals as well.

Seventeen Panamanian officials were recently implicated in receiving bribes from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company, and numerous corruption scandals have arisen Panama Papers tax evasions, as well as corruption within the National Assembly.

The result has been a deep lack of trust in the political institutions throughout Panama, something that President-elect Cortizo seeks to change, “The chaos is over. Public funds belong to the public, and they are sacred.”

Cortizo campaigned on a platform dedicated to fighting corruption, reforming laws regarding public contracts, dealing with the rising unemployment, and combatting the ever-present high rate of inequality.

Panama has the fastest-growing economy in Latin America, but it remains plagued with one of the highest rates of inequality in the region. Director Harry Brown of the International Center for Political and Social Studies in Panama commented, “The Panamanian population is very aware that wealth is poorly distributed.” Fighting this inequality has been a major component of Cortizo’s campaign.