Vice president wins top spot in Panama’s presidential race

Panama’s vice president has won a surprise victory in the presidential election.

Juan Carlos Varela, who had distanced himself politically from President Ricardo Martinelli, has been declared the winner of Sunday’s vote.

Election day began with opinion polls pointing to a tight race among the top three candidates. None had the 50-year-old Varela, the scion of one of Panama’s richest families, with a lead.

Most polls gave a thin edge to Housing Minister JosĂ© Domingo Arias, the president’s choice for his replacement. Arias’ running mate was President Martinelli’s wife.

The other top candidate was former Panama City mayor Juan Carlos Navarro.

President Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon, recently inaugurated the first metro in Central America in Panama City.

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