Panama votes on crowded field of presidential contenders

Panamanians voted Sunday in presidential elections featuring a crowded field of eight candidates led by the protege of a former head of state convicted of corruption.

The vote comes as Panama is grappling with deep-rooted corruption, a severe drought that has hobbled its economically critical Panama Canal, and a stream of US-bound migrants passing through its jungles.

Lines formed outside polling stations early in the morning as eligible voters in the Central American country of 4.4 million people cast ballots for a new president, congress and local governments.

Conservative lawyer Jose Raul Mulino, 64, is far ahead in opinion polls, with about 37 percent of voter support, according to the latest survey.

But he was made to wait for a last-minute court decision Friday that finally validated his run. Of the seven other candidates, only three have approached 15 percent support.

Trailing Mulino are social democrat ex-president Martin Torrijos and two center-right politicians: Romulo Roux, foreign minister under ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, and Ricardo Lombana, a former envoy to the United States.

Polls show there are more undecided voters than support for any of Mulino's rivals.

'Frontman for a confirmed crook'

Martinelli, who remains popular in Panama, has taken asylum with his dog Bruno at the Nicaraguan embassy, from which he campaigned for his protege.

Read more on FRANCE 24 English

Read also:
Ten candidates qualified to vie for Panama presidency in 2024
Protesters block key Panama highway after rejecting deal with government
The children of the Panama Canal