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Last Updated:[04-05-2009 05:42:03 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

Panamanians Give the Rightist Ricardo Martinelli a Thumping Majority

tradenews Ricardo Martinelli, the president of the centre-right Democratic Change (CD) party has won the Panamanian presidential elections with a double-digit percentage margin over its nearest rival. His victory over former Housing Minister Balbina Herrera of Panama's ruling coalition, the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) is the first time the country has voted against a traditional party that was largely split between the two main national parties earlier.

Martinelli will assume office on July 1 as the President of the country for a five-year term. His primary focus would be to bring down the crime rate as it was regarded as the most important issue at the moment, according to several opinion polls. Besides, he will have to quickly work towards his campaign promises of flat taxes, infrastructural development and tourism promotion since it is projected that the economy would grow below 4 percent down from close to 9.2 percent last year, the highest in the region. The $5.25bn expansion of the canal to increase its capacity to accommodate larger ships and maintaining the economic growth will be his other major challenges once he takes office this July.

The flat tax rate is expected to be between 12 and 15 percent for individuals and full waiver of taxes to citizens below a certain financial category. Although the country’s economy grew at a rate of 8.7 percent in the last five years and unemployment dropped from 12 percent to half of it, more than 30 percent of the 3.4mn population still live under poverty. Under the flat tax scheme even the corporate tax is likely to be slashed by over 10 percent from its current 30 percent levels.

Martinelli’s victory and margin despite strong economic growth means that people are keeping high hopes on him who has contested on ‘change’ plank. Martinelli is a self-made businessman and the former minister of Panama Canal affairs. He owns Panama's largest supermarket chain, Super 99 and founded CD ten years ago. His family hails from the Tuscan town of Lucca in Italy, is one of the richest men in Panama.

By Jose Roy

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