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Opposition candidate wins Panama presidential elections
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14:15, May 04, 2009

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Ricardo Martinelli, a supermarket magnate and candidate of the opposition Democratic Change Party (DC), won Panama's presidential elections on Sunday, said Erasmo Pinilla, president of the National Electoral Council (NEC).

Of the 60 percent of votes counted, Martinelli gained 60.64 percent and former Housing Minister Balbina Herrera of Panama's governing coalition gained 36.85 percent, showed results of the NEC.

Guillermo Endara, candidate of Fatherland's Moral Vanguard party, obtained 2.51 percent.

Shortly after casting his vote, Martinelli told Xinhua that he would " initiate a process of transparency that does not exist in Panama" and put into jail those who are found guilty of corruption.

The country should also seek other possibilities and focus primarily on the business relationship with the United States, he added.

The 59-year-old business tycoon will take office on July 1 when the term of incumbent President Martin Torrijos expires.

This is the second time Martinelli has run in a presidential race. In the 2004 election, Martinelli finished last out of four candidates with only 5.3 percent of the vote.

Analysts said Martinelli won the elections thanks to his campaign for Panama's social reform with the slogan "for a real change", which is attractive to the middle class and impoverished social sectors.

Martinelli said his priority is to improve the unequal distribution of wealth in this Central American country, where some 40 percent of its population live in poverty and 12 percent in abject poverty despite years of robust economic growth.

During his presidential campaign, Martinelli made such promises as fighting corruption, ameliorating living conditions of senior citizens and improving transport systems.

He also said he would review Panama's ties with China once he were elected. The Central American country currently does not have diplomatic relations with China.

Martinelli, 47, is the owner of the Super 99 supermarket chain, which is the largest in the country.

He served as director of the Chamber of Commerce of Panama from1985 to 1987 and director of social security from 1994 to 1996.

From 1999 to 2003, he worked as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority and minister of canal affairs.

The general elections of Panama finished at 4:00 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday. Some 2.2 million people were eligible to vote. Voters also elected one vice president, 71 members of the national assembly, mayors and members of municipal councils.

Source: Xinhua

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