Anger over brazen corruption and weariness over the political status quo are widespread among the Panamanian electorate ahead of Sunday’s vote to pick a successor to President Juan Carlos Varela, on whose watch Latin America’s fastest growing economy cooled off significantly.
In what has been perhaps the shortest and least colorful campaign since Panama’s transition to democracy three decades ago, most election talk has focused on government malfeasance following the massive leak of law firm documents in the Panama Papers and a regionwide scandal involving bribes paid by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
The Odebrecht case “is particularly relevant in Panama in light of the Panama Papers,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, alluding to the fact that many of the shell companies that became public through the leak from a Panamanian law firm were used to funnel bribes from the Brazilian company.
“Corruption becomes an even more important issue in the context of the country’s recent sluggish economic performance,” he continued. “Many Panamanians are fed up with the political class and have been disappointed by successive administrations.”