One of Panama’s richest men has been elected as the country’s president.
Conservative opposition candidate Ricardo Martinelli ended a series of left-wing leadership victories in Latin America by claiming more than 60 percent of the vote. 57-year old Martinelli made his fortune as owner of the country’s largest supermarket chain. His business acumen is seen as a key factor in winning round voters. He will now be in charge of a five-billion dollar expansion of the Panama canal, a huge source of tax revenue that has driven a recent economic boom in the country. Martinelli’s left-wing rival Balbina Herrera polled just over 36 percent of the vote and has conceded the election, promising to lead her party into opposition. A parallel parliamentary election also appears to have been won by a right-wing opposition alliance supported by Martinelli. Panama has enjoyed years of double-digit economic growth but this is expected to slow to three percent in 2009. As well as the plan to expand the canal, Martinelli has promised to develop Panama’s infrastructure by building ports, roads and an underground train network in the capital.