(Updates with early results)
By Christine Murray and Elida Moreno
PANAMA CITY, May 4 Panama's vice-president,
running as an opposition candidate, took an early lead in
Sunday's presidential election after a campaign in which he took
credit for outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli's policies but
vowed cleaner government.
Juan Carlos Varela of the center-right Panamenista Party
(PP) helped Martinelli get elected in 2009 but later fell out
with him and has vowed to cut the cost of living and reduce
Varela had 38.87 percent support with votes counted from
around 25.7 percent of polling booths, Panama's election
Ruling party contender Jose Domingo Arias had 31.86 percent,
while left-leaning former Panama City mayor Juan Carlos Navarro
of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) had 27.97 percent.
It was not immediately clear whether the ballots counted
were representative of the vote on a national level.
The winner will inherit oversight of a major expansion of
the Panama Canal, which briefly stalled earlier this year after
a row over costs between the canal and the building consortium.
The election campaign has focused more on personalities than
policy, which is not expected to change dramatically regardless
of who emerges as the winner.
Many voters voiced dissatisfaction with the ruling
Democratic Change's (CD) Arias, whose running mate is
Martinelli's wife and who is seen by opponents as a proxy for
the outgoing president.
"I think most of the country is against re-election in
disguise," said lawyer Pablo Jiustiani, 34, in Panama City's
up-market San Francisco neighborhood, shortly before polls
(Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Editing by Elinor Comlay
and Kieran Murray)