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Panama - Elections May 2014

In May 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez, the candidate of the opposition The People First Alliance, as president in national elections independent observers considered generally free and fair. Most pre-election polls indicated the top three candidates were within just a few points of each other in the election to replace President Ricardo Martinelli.

The president's choice for his replacement was Housing Minister Jose Domingo Arias of the ruling CD party. Opponents viewed Arias as a proxy for Martinelli. Arias' running mate is the president's wife. No incumbent party had won re-election in Panama since the U.S. invasion in 1989 to oust military strongman Manuel Noriega. The two other main presidential contenders are former Panama City mayor Juan Carlos Navarro and Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, the scion of one of Panama's richest families.

Seventy-one legislators (including nine ongoing challenges as of November), 77 mayors, 648 local representatives, and seven council members were also elected. A record 76 percent of citizens cast their votes. The Electoral Tribunal supervised the elections, which the Organization of American States (OAS) election observation group noted had a “high participation of citizens that reached 76.8 percent and who exercised their right peacefully and with great civic spirit.” The OAS mission stressed the efforts of “authorities to promote inclusiveness.”

The United for More Change coalition, comprising President Ricardo Martinelli's Democratic Change (CD) party, came first in the 04 May 2014 parliamentary elections, taking 32 seats in the 71-member National Assembly. The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), led by Mr. Juan Carlos Navarro, followed with 25 seats. The People First coalition, including the Panamenista Party, took 13 seats.

Both the CD and the Panamenista Party were part of the Alliance for Change which supported Mr. Martinelli's presidency in 2009. However, the coalition split in 2011 and each party endorsed a separate presidential candidate in 2014. Mr. Martinelli was constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term as President. The ruling CD endorsed former housing minister Mr. Jose Domingo Arias as its presidential candidate and First Lady Marta Linares, as his running mate. The People First coalition supported Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, while the PRD backed the former mayor of Panama City, Mr. Juan Carlos Navarro.

The United for More Change ran on the government's record, citing the country's economic growth and better infrastructure, including the recently-opened subway line in Panama City - the first in Central America. Mr. Arias promised to continue public works and social programmes. The Panamenista Party promised to establish a government of dialogue and national consensus and to improve the quality of life for all. Its leader pledged to fight corruption and inequality. The PRD promised to offer better education, including 10,000 scholarships to college students. PRD leader Navarro also proposed a tougher policy to tackle crime, including life sentences for murderers.

On 23 November 2014 over 1,000 people took to streets in Panama City to protest political corruption and impunity after the corruption scandals involving officials of President Ricardo Martinelli's administration, such as the ex-president of the Supreme Court of Justice and the ex-minister of Social development. They demanded to put an end to corruption and to prosecute the corrupt officials. Martinelli was indicted and prosecuted in Italy on extortion and corruption charges as soon as he left office in mid-2014 in a burgeoning scandal that affected the integrity of the Panama Canal.

Panama asked the United States 27 September 2016 to extradite former President Ricardo Martinelli to face charges of tapping opponents' and journalists' phones and emails while in power. Martinelli, a wealthy businessman who was in office from 2009 to 2014, is accused of using public money for illegal surveillance of more than 150 people. The former president said he was the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt. He left Panama in January 2015 and was believed to be living in Miami, Florida. Martinelli had four other cases against him at the country's supreme court, including misuse of public funds, financial crimes, taking bribes and giving illegal pardons.

On June 11, 2018, pursuant to the extradition treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of Panama, the United States extradited the former President of Panama Ricardo Martinelli to face criminal charges in Panama. Martinelli was arrested in Miami on June 12, 2017 based on an extradition request from the Panamanian government. His case followed the normal procedure for extradition governed by the bilateral treaty and U.S. law and was handled in accordance with applicable legal procedures throughout the process. This case was certified to the State Department, which makes the final decision whether to surrender an individual to the requesting government. It is for Panamanian courts to determine Mr. Martinelli’s guilt or innocence on the charges for which he was extradited.

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