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Panama lawmakers approve election runoff bill

Panamanian lawmakers approved a bill Saturday that requires runoffs in close presidential elections. The bill mandates that if no candidate amasses 50 percent of the vote after the election, a second round of voting would take place [Reuters report]. A presidential election is currently won by a mere majority vote. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli [official website, in Spanish] praised the reform bill, while critics argue the bill constitutes an effort to keep the president's Democratic Change Party [official website, in Spanish] in power. The unicameral legislature will ultimately vote to grant final approval, though opposition will likely challenge the bill in court.

Voters elected Martinelli president in May 2009 national elections "considered generally free and fair by independent observers" according to a 2010 US Department of State (DOS) [official website] Human Rights report [text]. On the other hand, local elections have been marred by controversy. Human Rights Everywhere (HRE) [advocacy website], a non profit organization, described the elections in the Ngobe-Bugle community as "confusing" and ill-timed. Martinelli won the 2009 election with over 60 percent of the vote.

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