Conservative supermarket tycoon wins Panama vote
Ricardo Martinelli's message of change prevails despite years of strong economic growth.
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Promises to tackle crime, expand canalSkip to next paragraph
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Martinelli, won runs Panama's largest supermarket chain, promises that he'll tackle crime – which ranks as the top concern of voters, according to opinion polls – as well as invest in education and infrastructure, including the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, and prioritize a free trade agreement stalled in the US.
His policies do not differ radically from those of Ms. Herrera, who also supported free trade and foreign investment. He did say, however, that he would simplify the tax code by imposing a flat tax of between 10 and 20 percent.
Martinelli is a self-made businessman and the former minister of Panama Canal affairs. He served in both the ruling and traditional opposition parties, which also gives voters hope that he will be able to work effectively with the political class to get policies pushed forward. "He knows how to work with all sides," says Ms. Arosemena.
High expectations could backfire?
But Carlos Guevara-Mann, a Panamanian political analyst who teaches at the University of Nevada, Reno, says that high voter expectations could backfire. "An incapacity to meet public expectations of a cleaner and more effective government might increase popular discontent," he says.
A big presence with a mop of white hair, his popularity was due in part to the massive money that the multimillionaire poured in to finance his own campaign. While he drew support among the business-oriented class, he also appealed to the poor with media campaigns highlighting efforts such as a charity to improve education.
But Pedro Ayola, a small business owner in Panama City who supports the PRD, says he doubts that Martinelli will care for the poor as the PRD has. "We've worked hard to make the economic gain reach down to the poor and middle classes. Martinelli only cares about the business class and the capitalists," he says. "We're going to lose everything we've fought for."
Mr. Ayola says Herrera was unfairly pegged as a leftist. Indeed, many of those interviewed, from taxi drivers to street vendors, said they were turned off by a perceived affiliation with Venezuela's fiery leftist leader, Hugo Chávez. "The tried to paint her as a 'chavista,' and it's a fallacy."
Others feel that the results will have less of an impact in the direction the country is taking. Mr. Chapman, for example, says that no major change was at stake. "There was no systematic threat to the political or economic system," says Mr. Chapman. "We are not at a critical crossroads."