Panama top court calls session on presidential frontrunner's candidacy

(Reuters) -Panama's top court kicked off an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to decide on the constitutionality of the presidential candidacy of the former running mate of ex-President Ricardo Martinelli, just days before the election.

Jose Raul Mulino joined the race in March as Martinelli's replacement, after Martinelli was removed from the race due to a nearly 11-year sentence for money laundering. Recent polls place Mulino as the favorite to win the May 5 vote, and Panamanians abroad have already started casting their votes.

The challenge argues that Mulino's candidacy is unconstitutional since the party did not select him and he does not have a running mate who would serve as his vice president if elected.

Former presidents, other presidential candidates, and even Panama's outgoing President Laurentino Cortizo have publicly supported Mulino's run, stressing the need for clean and transparent elections.

Mulino has alleged the challenge is politically motivated.

(Reporting by Valentine Hilaire and Kylie Madry; Editing by Brendan O'Boyle)