Former minister Jose Raul Mulino wins Panama presidential race

Jose Raul Mulino, the protege of a graft-convicted former head of state, was declared Panama's president-elect after elections Sunday.

Mulino, 64, won the single-round, first-past-the-post race with more than a third of votes cast, the Central American country's electoral tribunal said.

Moments earlier, runner up Ricardo Lombana had conceded defeat.

The election came as the country grapples with deep-rooted corruption, a severe drought that has hobbled the economically critical Panama Canal, and a stream of US-bound migrants passing through its jungles.

There were lines at many polling stations as eligible voters in the Central American nation of 4.4 million people cast their ballots for a new president, parliament and local governments to tackle those pressing issues over the next five years.

Opinion polls had shown right-wing lawyer Mulino far ahead of the pack of eight candidates.

But he was made to wait for a last-minute court decision Friday that finally validated his run.

'Panama must change'

Mulino replaced former president Ricardo Martinelli as the candidate for the right-wing Realizing Goals (RM) party after Martinelli lost an appeal against a money-laundering conviction.

The candidacy of Mulino, who had been Martinelli's vice-presidential running mate until the ex-leader's disqualification, was then challenged on the basis that he had not won a primary vote or picked his own running mate, as required by law.

The Supreme Court dismissed that complaint Friday in a ruling welcomed by Martinelli, who most Panamanians believe will wield control from behind the scenes, according to a recent poll.


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