Panama to kick off general elections

Updated: 2014-05-03 14:20


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PANAMA CITY - Panamanians will go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, vice president and legislators.

Seven candidates are registered in the presidential race, with three leading the field -- Jose Domingo Arias from the ruling conservative Democratic Change party, Juan Carlos Navarro from the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party and Juan Carlos Varela from the conservative Panamenista Party.

Voters were almost equally divided among the three leading candidates, with most polls showing each with about a third of the electorate's support.

"This parity in the polls has generated obvious tension in Panama's general elections and the aggressive campaigns are a reflection of that," a Panamanian commentator wrote Thursday in a column.

Some of the tensions have been generated by current President Ricardo Martinelli, who is barred by the constitution from running again, but has nevertheless managed to become a central figure in the race.

His wife, Marta Linares de Martinelli, is running as the ruling party candidate's running mate, a move seen by most as Martinelli's attempt to maintain his hold on power.

Though the heated presidential race has generated some excitement among voters, political observers generally believe that none of the three contenders represents a radical change in the Central American nation's political, economic or social policy.