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Panama's Vice President Wins Presidential Election

By Expert Author: jareldaren

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Vice President Juan Carlos Varela pulled off a surprise victory in Panama's presidential election Sunday, thwarting an attempt by former ally President Ricardo Martinelli to extend his grip on energy by electing a hand-picked successor.

With additional than 80 percent of ballots counted, Varela led with 39 % of the votes, compared to 32 % for Martinelli's decision, political newcomer Jose Domingo Arias. Juan Carlos Navarro, a former mayor of the capital, was in third in the seven-candidate field with 28 %.

Varela, who takes office July 1, devoted his victory to Panama's democracy. Waving the nation's flag at a rally to celebrate his victory, he vowed to place aside the partisan bickering of the past five years and clean up government amid the widespread perception of corruption that worsened beneath Martinelli.

"Whoever wants to do business enterprise should grab their factors and go to the private sector," he told a cheering crowd in a clear swipe at the outgoing president.

Election day started with opinion polls pointing to a tight race among the top three candidates, but none of the important surveys had Varela with a lead. Most gave a razor-thin edge to Arias.

A totally free-marketplace conservative, the 50-year-old Varela also has powerful social credentials. Prior to breaking with Martinelli in 2011, he was the architect of the government's well-liked "100 for 70" system that gives a $one hundred month-to-month stipend to Panamanians more than age 70 without having a pension or retirement rewards.

Despite the fact that Martinelli wasn't on the ballot, the billionaire supermarket magnate's presence loomed massive for the duration of the campaign. Quite a few worried he would be the power behind the throne if voters chose Arias, a soft-spoken former housing minister, and even seek to modify the constitution to remove a two-term cooling off period ahead of becoming eligible once again to seek the presidency.

As the race narrowed in current weeks, Martinelli crisscrossed the isthmus inaugurating hospitals, stadiums and Central America's 1st subway while warning the 4 million Panamanians that record-low unemployment and financial growth that averaged additional than eight % due to the fact he took office in 2009 could be jeopardized if his opponents won.

His use of the bully pulpit in defiance of a law against campaigning by sitting presidents drew widespread criticism, as did his selection to spot his wife, Marta Linares, as Arias' operating mate. Under no circumstances since the United States' 1989 overthrow of military strongman Manuel Noriega has an incumbent celebration won re-election in Panama.

Martinelli reluctantly recognized the final results. Hounded by cameras although arriving at Arias' campaign headquarters Sunday night, he supplied up a snappish "May perhaps God support us" and mentioned he would shelve plans for a quiet retirement and devote himself to opposing Varela's rule.

The outgoing president will have a robust platform from which to do so: Candidates from his Democratic Center celebration were the largest winners in congressional voting Sunday, taking an estimated 29 of 71 seats in the legislative assembly. Varela's celebration won just 11 seats, meaning he will practically have to negotiate with Navarro's center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party, which elected 22 representatives.

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