Despite a rocky past full of corruption and excessive U.S. influence, Panama’s current democratic government has enjoyed over a decade of peaceful elections and increasing transparency, and is one of the most stable governments in Latin America.
Panama has a rich political history with one of the most famous being the years of General Manuel Noriega who controlled panama from 1983-1989. With his reputation for drug smuggling and money laundering, Noriega was indicted by the United States in 1988. In December of 1989, General Noriega declared war on the United States prompting an immediate invasion of 24,000 troops and the subsequent surrender of Manuel Noriega, who is currently serving a 40 year prison term.
The years following the oust of Noriega are filled with corruption and failure, with real change occurring in 1999 when the United States handed over control of the canal to the Panama government. Since then, Panama has forged the path of creating a democratic country, which has resulted in much needed fiscal and social reforms creating the stable conditions that exist today.
Like the United States, the Panama government is comprised of three branches: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. The executive branch consists of a president and vice president and the legislative branch holds 72 members. Each executive and legislative term is for 5 years. The Judicial branch is organized under a 9-member Supreme Court. Voting age is 18.
May 3, 2009 marked a new presidential election, with supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli and his party “Democratic Change” winning the election. Martinelli has vowed to be tough on crime, which has seen a rise in the recent year due to an increase in drug activity, and has also voiced his support for Panama’s proposed free-trade agreement with the United States. Martinelli is known as the President of the supermarket chain “Super 99″ and is considered conservative. His election is being considered a good sign for Panama’s growing reputation as a business-friendly climate in the international market.