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Published: Tuesday April 15, 2014 MYT 11:25:21 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 15, 2014 MYT 11:26:37 AM

Panama presidential candidates tied ahead of May vote

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama's ruling party presidential candidate and an opposition challenger are in a dead heat ahead of the Central American country's May 4 vote, a poll showed on Monday.

Jose Arias, from the ruling Democratic Change (CD)party, and Juan Navarro, from the moderate left opposition Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), both won 32 percent support in a poll by Ipsos and Canal 13.

The country's current vice president, Juan Varela, took 26 percent in the poll. Varela broke with current President Ricardo Martinelli and ran on the ticket of the Panamenista Party.

The poll surveyed 1,374 of the country's roughly 2 million voters, but its margin of error was not disclosed.

Martinelli is prohibited by the constitution from running for a second five-year term as president.

Panama's next president will need to maintain the country's strong growth rates, the highest in Central America, and complete an expansion of the Panama Canal, which was disrupted by a dispute over massive cost overruns between the canal's authority and an international consortium of builders.

The two sides finally inked a deal in mid-March to finish construction by December 2015.

An aggressive government infrastructure program helped boost Panama's largely services-based economy to double-digit growth in 2011 and 2012, but the pace cooled to 8.4 percent in 2013 and is seen at 7 percent this year and next.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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