Panama Supreme Court rejects challenge to candidacy of presidential frontrunner days before vote

Panama’s Supreme Court has rejected a constitutional challenge to the candidacy of leading presidential contender José Raúl Mulino
Achieving Goals presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino holds a press conference after meeting with members of the Electoral Observation Mission, in Panama City, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Panama will hold general elections on May 5. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

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Achieving Goals presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino holds a press conference after meeting with members of the Electoral Observation Mission, in Panama City, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Panama will hold general elections on May 5. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama's Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the candidacy of leading presidential contender José Raúl Mulino on Friday, removing an element of uncertainty two days before the May 5 vote.

The court was ruling on a challenge from lawyer Karisma Etienne Karamañites, who argued that Mulino was not eligible because he had not been selected through a primary by the Achieving Goals party of former president Ricardo Martinelli.

Magistrate María Eugenia López, the Supreme Court’s president, read a statement on behalf of the court Friday, noting that there had been eight votes to reject the constitutional challenge and one dissent.

“What has moved this constitutional tribunal in the historic moment in which we find ourselves is the defense of our country and democracy, as well as institutionality, social peace, the right to elect and to be elected, political pluralism, and let’s not forget the important role played by the political parties," she said.

Panama's Electoral Tribunal in March barred Martinelli from standing, cutting short his attempted political revival, because he had been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for money laundering. Panama's constitution bars anyone sentenced to five years or more for a crime from holding elected office.

When Martinelli was blocked, Mulino, a 64-year-old maritime lawyer and former security minister, instantly became the frontrunner, despite not having Martinelli’s charisma or popular appeal.

Martinelli has campaigned for his former running mate from inside the walls of Nicaragua's embassy, where he took refuge in February after receiving political asylum from that government.

With Mulino still in the race, seven candidates will compete in Sunday’s election.

Another candidate, Melitón Arrocha, who had been trailing in polls, announced he would end his campaign and throw his support to ex-President Martín Torrijos.

Supporters of Achieving Goals presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino attend a campaign rally in Panama City, Sunday, April 28, 2024. Panama will hold general elections on May 5. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

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A dog dons a face cutout of Achieving Goals presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino during a campaign event, in Panama City, Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

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Former President Ricardo Martinelli sends a video message to supporters of presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino during a campaign rally's closing event in Panama City, Sunday, April 28, 2024. Panama will hold general elections on May 5. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

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