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Panama: prolonging presidential power

Thursday, May 3, 2012

WHAT President Ricardo Martinelli has persuaded dozens of legislators to back his bid for re election in 2014, while opponents claim that his party is buying votes in the National Assembly.

WHY Martinelli thinks he deserves another term. Average annual economic growth since he was elected in 2009 is the highest in the hemisphere. The country has made progress on the social front. All Panamanians over 70 now get a payment of $100 a month. Martinelli also pushed through two increases in the minimum wage, including one of 18% last January. At the same time, polls show a persistent decline in Martinelli’s popularity, as some Panamanians question the administration’s ethics.

WHAT NEXT To make a constitutional change, Martinelli needs the support of two-thirds of the Assembly’s 71 members. Current rules require a former president to wait two terms, before running again. During the past several months, Martinelli has persuaded close to 20 opposition legislators to join his Democratic Change Party - using payoffs as the main incentive, opposition leaders allege. Attempts to link Martinelli to previous corruption scandals, involving a prison construction contract, and the purchase of 19 Italian military helicopters, have failed. But as Panama moves closer to another round of elections, there will almost certainly be more questions.

For more information, please contact Esteban Alvarez, at [email protected]