San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

President-Elect Faces Challenges in Panama

PANAMA CITY (AFP) – A perceived friend of the business sector and son of former Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos (1968-1981), Martín Torrijos, won Panama’s presidential elections with a healthy 47.3% of the vote Sunday afternoon. Early vote totals, however, showed his Alliance for a New Country might not have won a majority in the 78-seat legislature.Many of the votes from the rural jungle areas were still being tallied this week and final electoral results for the single-chamber legislature were not expected until early next week.Strong support in congress is considered crucial for Torrijos to make needed reforms to the country’s collapsing Social Security System, as well as comply with campaign promises to reduce poverty, increase employment and fight corruption.Still, the 40-year-old President-elect expressed optimism about his ability to unite the country and push for a change to the policies of President Mireya Moscoso, whom he will replace in September.“I invite everyone to join in a new social pact against poverty, corruption and despair,’” Torrijos said in his victory speech. “At the end of my term I want to be remembered as the President who was able to transform a country headed for disaster.” Torrijos has already proved to be a dynamic leader who is able to unite members of different political persuasions.After a failed bid for President in 1999 on the ticket of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, in a campaign that analysts claimed Torrijos built on his father’s legacy, Torrijos worked to form a new, broader based political movement that appealed to old enemies and young voters.Extending a hand to his father’s old political nemesis, the Populist Party, Torrijos was able to form the Alliance for a New Country and muster the votes to win his second attempt at the presidency.FINISHING in second place in Sunday’s election was Guillermo Endara, former President (1989-1994) and founder of the opposition Arnulfista Party, who finished with 31% of the vote.Ruling party candidate José Miguel Alemán, who served as President Moscoso’s Foreign Minister before announcing his candidacy last year, received 16.3% of the vote.Torrijos claimed victory at midnight Sunday, promising to continue building a new social pact to combat the 40% poverty level and 12% unemployment rate in this country of 3.1 million inhabitants.“We are forming a serious new social pact that will be participatory and non-exclusionary; a social pact that will make the transformations the Panamanian society has been asking for for a long time,” Torrijos said. “This country is everyone’s. In our proposal there is no room for revenge, but instead an opportunity to join wills and construct a country where all are able to participate.”TORRIJOS, who was educated at a U.S. military prep school before obtaining degrees in political science and economics from Texas A&M University, recently criticized President Moscoso’s fiscal policies and called for reforms to the pension system.The outgoing President took a conciliatory approach to her party’s sound defeat at the voting polls last weekend. She raised the possibility of working with Torrijos during the lame-duck period by calling on the country to “put our differences aside and unite in the sole objective of constructing a country of progress and well-being.”Torrijos might also get some help from Grammy award-winning Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades, who often performs as the front man for Grammy-winning Costa Rican group Editus.Blades, a Harvard-educated lawyer, announced Monday he would like to join the government.Among his campaign promises, the President-elect has made known his intention to expand the Panama Canal to allow larger commercial ships through. The proposed expansion could cost an estimated $5 billion and create needed jobs.

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