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Popularity: the numbers don’t add up

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The popularity of a president is usually proportional to a country’s economic performance.

But rankings in the region shows that Central Americans are more complex, when it comes to deciding how much – or how little – they approve of their presidents.

The economy of El Salvador may be doing badly. Nevertheless, President Mauricio Funes is the most popular leader in Central America, according to recent poll results.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Panama and Costa Rica are at the bottom of the rankings, despite the fact that the economies of the two countries are the strongest in the region.

In fact, the only country, with both a growing economy and a popular president – Daniel Ortega - is Nicaragua.

For their part, economic problems are only one issue for Salvadorans, whose main concern is criminal violence. In this respect, Funes has done well, following a recent truce among local gangs and security forces. In addition, Funes is generally perceived as a moderate, who helps lay to rest the ghosts of the nation's civil war.

In Costa Rica, the economy is doing well. Nevertheless, President Laura Chinchilla, who came last in the ratings of the Central American leaders, has looked weak in controlling corruption.

The biggest surprise of the rankings may be Ricardo Martinelli, who barely finished above Chinchilla, despite years of Panamanian economic boom.

Panama’s economy may be booming, and Panamanians may approve of important projects, including a Metro for the capital, and the expansion of the Panama Canal.

But Martinelli’s character is seen as at best abrasive and at worst corrupt, following allegations of kickbacks from several international deals by the Panamanian government.

His personality has in addition been reflected in aggressive – and sometimes questionable - efforts on his part to change the Constitution in order to win re-election.

For the success of a country’s leader, the state of the economy is usually crucial.

In Central America, it seems that a president needs to do more.