Son of ex-dictator wins Panama's presidential race

Torrijos pledges to strengthen democracy and national pride

May 03, 2004|By Carol J. Williams | Carol J. Williams,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PANAMA CITY, Panama - Martin Torrijos, the dictator's son who pledged to strengthen democracy and national pride, celebrated a resounding victory yesterday in the first presidential election since U.S. troops handed back the Panama Canal more than four years ago.

The son of late strongman Gen. Omar Torrijos, the 40-year-old victor cheered his 47 percent showing as "the moment we've been anticipating for a very long time." He vowed to build on the democracy that has taken root since the last of Panama's military rulers, Gen. Manuel Noriega, was deposed by a 1989 U.S. invasion.

Torrijos defeated former President Guillermo Endara, 67, a conservative who led this country of 2.8 million through five transforming years after the ouster of Noriega, who is serving a 30-year sentence in Florida on drug charges.

Endara was polling 29 percent of the presidential vote in early unofficial returns, and former Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Aleman of the incumbent Arnulfista Party was carrying about 20 percent. Millionaire retailer Ricardo Martinelli, a fourth contender, was polling 4 percent of the vote.

New Nation, the political alliance behind Torrijos and his Revolutionary Democratic Party, was also given a good chance of capturing a plurality of seats in the 78-member National Assembly.

Panama enjoys what diplomats here describe as "incredibly strong and amicable" ties with Washington, a relationship likely to improve further under Torrijos, who has spent half of his life in the United States, holds a degree from Texas A&M University and once managed a McDonald's franchise in Chicago.

Despite morning deluges, voters thronged to the polls. The more than 80 percent turnout reflected Panamanians' keen involvement in political life in the democratic era.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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