Panama is a representative democracy with three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and an independently appointed judiciary. The executive and legislative branches elected by direct vote for 5-year terms. The executive branch includes a president and two vice presidents. The legislative branch consists of a 78- member unicameral National Assembly.
As in the case throughout Latin America, constitutional power of Panama government, although distributed among its three branches, is concentrated in the executive branch. The 1978 and 1983 amendments to the Constitution decreased the powers of the executive and increased those of the legislature, but the executive branch of Panama government remains the dominant power in the governmental system as defined by the Constitution.
The executive organ is headed by the president and two vice presidents. Together with the twelve ministers of state, they make up the Cabinet Council. They we all given several important powers, including decreeing a state of emergency and suspending constitutional guarantees, nominating members of the Supreme Court, and overseeing national finances, including national debt. The president and the two vice presidents must be native-born Panamanians and at least 35 years of age. Candidates may not be related directly to the incumbent president or have served as president or vice president during the two preceding terms. If the president resigns or removed from the office, he will then be replaced by the first vice president and there will be no provision for filling the vacancy created in the vice presidential ranks.
The two vice presidencies are relatively powerless positions, but since three vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency during the 1980’s, the posts are not significant. The vice presidents actually act as chief executive in the absence of the president and both have votes in the Cabinet Council.
The 1983 Constitutional amendments to Panama government created a new Legislative Assembly, a unicameral body with 67 members, each of whom has an alternate. Members and alternates are elected for 45 terms that run concurrently with those of the president and vice presidents. To qualify for the election, an individual must be at least 21 years of age and a Panamanian citizen either by birth or naturalization with 15 years of residency in Panama following to naturalization.
The Constitution of Panama government was changed in 2004; however, beginning with the 2009 national elections, the executive branch of Panama government will have only one vice president and the membership of the National Assembly will be capped at 71. The judicial branch is organized under a nine-member Supreme Court and includes all tribunals and municipal courts. An autonomous Electoral Tribunal supervises voter registration, the election process, and the activities of political parties. Any over the age of 18 may vote.
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