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story.lead_photo.caption Presidential candidate Laurentino Cortizo, with the Democratic Revolutionary Party, applauds his supporters in Panama City, Monday, May 6, 2019. Cortizo, a 66-year-old cattleman, holds on to a narrow lead Sunday night as returns came in from Panama's presidential election, which followed a campaign that focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in this Central America trade and financial hub. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

PANAMA CITY -- Panama's Electoral Court has declared opposition candidate Laurentino Cortizo the winner of the country's presidential election.

With 95% of ballots counted from Sunday's election, the electoral body said Cortizo, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, had won 33% of the vote.

It said Cortizo, a cattle rancher, will formally be named president-elect on Thursday.

"I call on all Panamanians to join in a national effort to correct the country's path, rescue the country and get the economy on the right track," Cortizo said early Monday.

Romulo Roux, a businessman and member of former President Ricardo Martinelli's Democratic Change party, finished in second place with 31% of the vote but has not conceded defeat.

The campaign focused on corruption and slowing economic growth in the Central American trade and financial hub, and it turned into the tightest presidential contest in recent years.

Before the electoral body's announcement, Roux vowed not to concede defeat, saying the results were too close and suggesting that the race was marred by irregularities.

"We have to guarantee the protection of the electoral process and of democracy. Right now, it's in doubt," Roux said, without providing any evidence of election tampering.

The Democratic Revolutionary Party, which has social democratic leanings, will take power for the third time since the transition to democracy three decades ago after the end of a military-led regime. The party last held power from 2004 through 2009 during the administration of Martin Torrijos.

There is no runoff in Panama, so the top vote-getter in the field of seven candidates wins outright and takes office July 1 for a five-year term.

The election came after revelations of money laundering in the so-called Panama Papers that dinged the country's reputation on the world stage. The trove of secret financial documents showed how some of the world's richest people hid their money using shell companies in Panama and other countries.

Despite the scandal, Panama remains a strategic location for commerce, anchored by the heavily trafficked Panama Canal shipping route and a recently expanded international airport.

Cortizo, a 66-year-old who studied business administration in the United States, was agriculture minister under Torrijos and campaigned on vows to clean up Panama's image after the corruption scandals.

Roux, a 54-year-old businessman, had the endorsement of Martinelli, a 1973 University of Arkansas graduate in business administration who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of political espionage. Roux held multiple government posts during Martinelli tenure from 2009-14, including minister of canal affairs and foreign minister.

Roux noted during his campaign that Panama's economy grew 3.8% last year compared with a 10.7% expansion in 2012, when Martinelli was president.

Turnout was strong at 72% as Panama held its sixth presidential election since a U.S. invasion ousted strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989.

Outgoing President Juan Carlos Varela, a 55-year-old conservative, was barred by the constitution from running.

A Section on 05/07/2019

Print Headline: Rancher declared winner of Panama's presidency

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