Mulino Triumphs In Panama's Presidential Race, Pledges Less 'Blah Blah Blah' And 'More Public Works And Money In Pockets'

Zinger Key Points
  • José Raúl Mulino wins Panama's presidency, pledging to turn the economy around.
  • Mulino was a stand-in for Ricardo Martinelli, who was barred for a money laundering conviction.

José Raúl Mulino has won Panama’s presidential election, promising economic reforms despite the nation’s recent struggles with the closure of the Cobre Panama mine.

"Less ‘blah blah blah,' more public works, progress, and money in your pocket," he promised after receiving 34% of votes in an election in which 77% of Panamanians cast ballots.

Mulino was a stand-in for former president Ricardo Martinelli, whose money laundering conviction disqualified him from the presidential race. Consequentially, he sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy, from which he led his former security minister to victory.

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Mulino’s campaign was devoid of public debates and traditional electioneering. His approach resonated with voters who longed for stability and economic growth. Mulino’s victory speech focused on national unity and promised to revitalize infrastructure while reviving Panama’s economic engine.

“It’s a very bizarre situation, unprecedented. I haven’t seen anything quite like this, not only in Panama but in any other Latin American country that I could think of,” Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, told NPR.

However, Mulino’s win comes at a challenging time. The International Monetary Fund projected a significant slowdown in economic growth, with a sharp drop from 7.5% in 2023 to 2.5% in 2024. Fitch Ratings had already downgraded Panama’s bonds to junk status, indicating a loss of investor confidence.

First Quantum's FQVLF Cobre Panama mine, which accounted for 3-5% of Panama’s GDP, was abruptly shuttered, disrupting the region and global copper supply.

The closure of the Cobre Panama mine, which caused a significant loss of employment and contributed to declining public revenue, only compounded these issues and will present a strong obstacle for Mulino. Despite a political will for an economic turnaround, water pollution seriously threatens his supporter's livelihood, while draught as a force majeure only amplifies the issue.

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