Cortizo Wins Panama Presidential Election as Opponent Concedes

(Bloomberg) -- Nearly 24 hours after polls closed in Panama’s election, the runner-up conceded defeat, handing the presidency to Texas-educated businessman Laurentino Cortizo.

Cortizo’s main opponent, Romulo Roux, said in a speech that he would accept the result, after initially saying he would wait for every last ballot to be scrutinized due to “irregularities” in the count.

Cortizo, 66, from the center-left Revolutionary Democratic Party, will be sworn in for a 5-year term on July 1. He pledged to overhaul the way public contracts are awarded, following a series of graft scandals, and revive the $60 billion economy which was, until recently, one of the world’s top performers. He got 33.3 percent of the vote, compared to 31.1 percent for Roux, with 97 percent of polling stations reporting.

“I didn’t get to power to steal, or repay favors to big economic and political groups,” he told supporters Sunday. “In Panama, there won’t be anyone who’s untouchable.’

Cortizo Wins Panama Presidential Election as Opponent Concedes

Cortizo, who Panamanians know as “Nito”, will need to revive an economy whose growth rate has slid from the Chinese-like pace to which its people had become accustomed. The economy expanded 3.7 percent last year, the slowest pace since 2009, though still more than double the Latin American average.

Growth in the dollarized economy of 4 million people slipped as major public works projects were completed and private investment slowed. The nation is a major banking center, and has been trying to shake off its reputation as a tax haven that allows crooks from Colombia and elsewhere to abuse its bank secrecy laws.

Cortizo, whose father was a Spanish immigrant, studied business in the U.S., and was awarded a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin, according to his resume filed with the electoral authority. He has led two construction companies and a livestock business since 1985.

He is likely to continue Panama’s business-friendly policies, said former Finance Minister Frank de Lima in an audio sent via WhatsApp.

The elections were characterized by a surge of anti-establishment anger over corruption and and the weaker economy. The ruling Panamenista party lost half its seats in congress, while its presidential candidate came fourth.

Panama’s GDP per capita of nearly $16,000 is among the highest in Latin America, and has already surpassed some European nations including Hungary and Croatia.

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