Panama's 2024 presidential election.

In the 2024 elections, Panama stood at a political crossroads. José Raúl Mulino emerged victorious amidst a field shaped by the dramatic exit of former president Ricardo Martinelli, who was disqualified following an 11-year sentence for money laundering. The shift propelled Mulino from a vice-presidential bid to the presidency, underpinning a campaign deeply entangled with corruption and economic revitalisation themes.

Unsurprisingly, corruption dominated the electoral discourse. “Those who voted for Mulino did so because they trust his performance as a member of the government of Ricardo Martinelli,” commented the Director of the Panama Chamber of Commerce. Each candidate, including Rómulo Roux, has vowed to restore public trust and stimulate public investment.

One of Mulino’s priorities “will be recovering Panama’s investment grade rating”, and he promises an ambitious infrastructure agenda to jumpstart the economy. The Chamber of Commerce Director continued, “President José Raúl Mulino sent a very positive signal to the country’s business sector and the markets, but also to his political opponents.” However, he remains less vocal about enhancing legal frameworks to attract foreign investments.

“President José Raúl Mulino sent a very positive signal to the country’s business sector and the markets, but also to his political opponents.”  

Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Panama

This reticence contrasts sharply with other candidates’ approaches to significant economic projects, such as the controversial Cobre Panamá copper mine, managed by First Quantum Minerals. “Although he has not given details of what that solution would look like, this promise is welcomed by the private sector and mining investors and is a good sign,” remarked a financier. 

The broader economic context in Panama complicates these positions. The government faces diminished revenues due to a drought impacting the Panama Canal and predictions of swelling public debt by credit agencies like Fitch. These challenges underline the critical economic juncture at which the next president will assume office. The Director believed Mulino “has the will to make possible the resumption of mining operations with greater supervision, clean up public finances, and solve fundamental problems in the country.” 

Yet, amidst these daunting scenarios, opportunities beckon. “Panama is a stable democracy; the election results have sent a clear message to the political class,” asserted the financier. The nation urgently needs a new reservoir to sustain the Panama Canal, presenting a significant infrastructure project slated for tender between 2024 and 2025.

Having seized the presidency, Mulino has emphasised that bolstering social and road infrastructure will be pivotal, potentially drawing foreign investors and developers to shore up Panama’s economic foundations. As the financier stated, “Panama must reactivate its economy to regain competitiveness and attractiveness as a destination for investors and foreign capital.” 

“Panama must reactivate its economy to regain competitiveness and attractiveness as a destination for investors and foreign capital.”

Financier, Panama

Mulino’s experience as a former minister of foreign affairs and security positions him as a seasoned candidate. “He knows how the government works and how foreign policy should be handled,” the Director confirmed. His previous tenure under Martinelli, known for aggressive infrastructure policies, lends credence to his capability to manage substantial projects such as the Panama Metro, which had previously spurred job creation and economic activity. “He is a politician with a democratic vocation; he fought against the military dictatorship in the 1980s and knows the ins and outs of politics,” credited the financier. 

Concerning the contentious mining issue, Mulino’s presidency can “remedy the problem that caused the mining crisis in the first place, for example, by negotiating a more beneficial contract for Panama.” The Panamanian Chamber of Commerce Director continued, “Without a doubt, his biggest challenge would be to convince Panamanians of this since the outgoing government’s handling of the problem was abysmal.” Achieving this will demand substantial political skill, as “he lacks a majority in the Assembly of Deputies” and must forge consensus across a politically fragmented landscape. 

Regarding business sentiment, the election represents a pivotal moment for Panama’s economic and social trajectory. “The markets have reacted with optimism to the triumph of Mulino, whom they consider a trustworthy candidate who believes in the free market and foreign investment.” The Director elaborated, “The next few weeks will be crucial and will give us clearer signs of how the new government will come about,” signalling the new administration’s direction and impact on domestic policies and international investor confidence. 

Panama’s 2024 election is not merely about choosing a new leader; it’s about navigating a complex array of economic, social, and political challenges. Mulino’s campaign, built on extensive governmental experience and a commitment to substantial infrastructure and economic reforms, aims to steer Panama towards a revitalised and more stable future. The financier “takes it for granted that he will achieve these pacts and obtain the majority he needs,” as Panama’s global economic positioning and internal social cohesion are now for Mulino to steer. 

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