PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) -- Martin Torrijos, the son of a former dictator, won Panama's first presidential elections since the handover of the Panama Canal and withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 1999, electoral authorities said Sunday.
Torrijos -- son of the late dictator Gen. Omar Torrijos, who ruled Panama from 1968 until his death in 1981 -- exalted but took care avoid the ghosts of the past in his campaign.
"Today is a new chapter in the country's history," Torrijos said in response to a telephone call from Electoral Tribunal Justice Eduardo Valdez, informing him that preliminary results showed he had won the four-way race.
We will start with firm actions to fulfill our campaign pledges."
Campaign officials said the U.S.-educated Torrijos would focus on tax and spending reform, negotiating a free trade agreement with United States, and improving the canal.
Torrijos won about 47 percent of votes, to about 29 percent for ex-president Guillermo Endara, with about one-quarter of votes counted. Endara did not immediately concede the race.
Third-place candidate Jose Miguel Aleman, of President Mireya Moscoso's ruling Arnulfista Party, conceded defeat after drawing about 19 percent, saying "the people have spoken loudly and clearly, and Martin Torrijos is the president of all Panamanians."
Indeed, voter turnout in this nation of 2.8 million reached nearly 80 percent, despite the fact that both leading candidates were heavily associated with the country's troubled past.
After rejecting his father's authoritarian style, Torrijos paid a visit to his father's crypt before voting Sunday. Later in the day, he said "I hope that people vote thinking of the future, about their families and the needs of the country."
As he cast his vote, Endara remarked, "We suffered a lot to recover democracy. This (election) is another demonstration of Panamanians' commitment to democracy."
Endara's 1989 election was overturned by the military. He was sworn into office later that year, when U.S. troops invaded Panama and overthrew dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega. Endara served until 1994.
Corruption, poverty and unemployment were the major issues in the race for president and the 78-seat congress in this nation of 2.8 million.
Despite his authoritarian rule, some have fond memories of Torrijos' father. He was liked for his folksy style, land reform and public works, and for signing the treaty that resulted in the handover of the formerly U.S.-run canal to Panama.
"Life was better for the people back then, even though there was military rule," said Praxedes Juarez Gonzalez, 52, a painter and card-carrying member of the PRD's old guard.
But the younger Torrijos has reformed the party, easing out most of the old guard, and Panama abolished its armed forces in 1992.
Moscoso, barred by law from running for re-election and scarred by a series of corruption scandals, said "I feel I have done my duty to the people, and I'm leaving satisfied." Businessman Ricardo Martinelli was in last place with about 4 percent.
Now that Panama runs the canal, its biggest challenge is how to finance an expansion of the waterway to handle wider ships.
Not only are there no American troops here -- the last left in December 1999 -- the United States isn't making the kind of ideologically charged statements that have marked other recent Central American elections.
"I am sure the United States will continue to have excellent relations with Panama," U.S. Ambassador Linda Watt said Sunday. "It appears to me that in the short time since the dictatorship, the country has matured a lot."
Unfortunatelly, the politica class, at least in South America is too corrupt, therefore, people think that authoritarian/military movements will steal less. We all know that this is not true, they will steal = or + than other movements.
I can't believe that this guy won, Torrijo Killed thousands of peoples in Panama... very sad