Sat. May 25th, 2024

Panama’s political landscape sees a pivotal turn just two days shy of the presidential elections as the Supreme Court grants approval for the candidacy of leading contender, Jose Raul Mulino, in the early hours of Friday.

Mulino, a 64-year-old conservative lawyer, commands over 30 percent of voter intention according to opinion polls, marking a significant presence in the electoral arena. However, Mulino’s participation hung in the balance pending the court’s decision.

The journey to Mulino’s candidacy saw twists and turns following the displacement of ex-president Ricardo Martinelli as the nominee for the right-wing Realizing Goals (RM) party. Martinelli’s disqualification stemmed from an unsuccessful appeal against a money laundering conviction, resulting in an impending prison term of nearly 11 years. In this vacuum, Mulino stepped forward as the party’s torchbearer, awaiting judicial validation to join the electoral race.

A pivotal juncture arrived on Tuesday as the Supreme Court deliberated over a challenge lodged against an electoral tribunal ruling, which permitted Mulino’s candidacy despite his non-participation in a primary vote or the selection of a running mate, mandated by law. The court’s verdict, delivered on Friday, deemed the tribunal’s decision as “not unconstitutional,” thereby paving the way for Mulino’s inclusion in Sunday’s electoral fray.

Speaking to reporters, Supreme Court president Maria Eugenia Lopez underscored the fundamental rights of Panamanian citizens “to elect and be elected, and political pluralism,” which influenced the court’s decision. Notably, Mulino’s trajectory in the political arena intertwines with his tenure as security minister and subsequent roles under Martinelli’s administration, spanning the years 2009 to 2014.

Despite past legal entanglements, including a stint in pre-trial detention over corruption allegations in 2015-16, Mulino’s candidacy now stands affirmed by the highest judicial authority in Panama. Reacting to the court’s ruling, former president Martinelli hailed the triumph of “truth, law, and justice,” signaling a unified front within the Realizing Goals party as it braces for the electoral showdown on Sunday.

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