Panama top court deems presidential frontrunner's candidacy constitutional

(Reuters) -Panama's top court on Friday ruled the presidential candidacy of ex-President Ricardo Martinelli's former running mate Jose Raul Mulino is constitutional, days before the election.

Mulino joined the race in March as Martinelli's replacement, after Martinelli was removed from the race due to a nearly 11-year sentence for money laundering. Recent polls place Mulino as the favorite to win the May 5 vote.

Panama's top court said "the sovereign will of the Panamanian people" moved their decision, emphasizing the importance of preserving democracy, institutional integrity, social peace, and citizens' right to vote.

Martinelli was leading the polls before being excluded, and the latest surveys show Mulino inherited his popularity. Martinelli had been backing Mulino through social media from the Nicaraguan embassy, where he has been living since his sentence after being granted asylum.

The ex-president said through his X account he was very happy and welcomed the top court's decision, adding it "will set an example for future electoral processes".

The Electoral Tribunal said after the court's decision that the general election would continue as planned on Sunday.

(Reporting by Natalia Siniawski and Valentine Hillaire, additional reporting Elida Moreno; editing by Gabriel Araujo, Sharon Singleton and Toby Chopra)