Panama Election: Is President Martinelli Pulling A Fast One?

May 2, 2014

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli
Credit Edgar Alberto Dominguez / World Economic Forum

The Panama Canal is expanding, but is Panama's democracy shrinking? The country is holding a presidential election on Sunday, May 4 -- and there are growing concerns that right-wing President Martinelli is trying an end run around the constitution.

Panamanian presidents are banned from holding consecutive terms in office. But Martinelli's critics say he's attempting to do that indirectly by running his wife, Marta Linares, as his party's vice presidential candidate. Should the party's presidential candidate, José Domingo Arias, win on Sunday, many Panamanians fear Martinelli -- who has displayed an authoritarian bent since taking office in 2009 -- will remain the real power.

Martinelli denies the charge. But Panama's electoral tribunal has invited high-level international delegations to the country to witness the electoral process. The stakes are high in this election as Panama nears completion of a massive expansion of the canal, which promises to generate billions in new revenues for the small, booming Central American nation. Arias is running neck-and-neck in polls with center-left candidate Juan Carlos Navarro.