Panama is a small Central-American country which gained independence from Colombia in 1904. Panama has a constitutional representative democratic system of government with three arms of government comprised of the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The country had a troubled history including a 1968-coup which brought in a military dictatorship government to power. However, democracy was restored in 1991 through US-led international interventions. Panama City is the nation’s capital and is the seat of government.
The Constitution of Panama is the supreme law of the country and all other laws are subordinate to the Constitution. It is comprised of 312 articles. Panama uses a Constitution which was promulgated in 1972 but has had numerous amendments over the years. The Constitution outlines the branches of the government as the executive, legislature, and the judiciary and elaborates the powers and privileges of each branch. The Constitution also elaborates all rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Panama residents, and it indicates Spanish as the national language.
The Executive is comprised of the president, vice president, and the cabinet. According to the Constitution, the president is both head of government and the head of state and exercises executive power. The president and the vice president are both democratically elected on a single ballot through the direct popular vote and are limited to serve one five-year term. The cabinet is comprised of various ministers who head their respective ministries as well as the Attorney General, The Manager of the National Bank of Panama and the Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The Cabinet is appointed by the president and is mandated to implement government policies.
In Panama, the National Assembly is accorded all legislature authority by the Constitution. The National Assembly consists of a single-chambered (unicameral) parliament which has 71 members. The National Assembly is tasked to make new laws and amend the existing laws. The members are elected through party-list proportional representation voting system, drawn from the existing political parties to serve five-year terms. Parliamentary elections are conducted concurrently with the presidential elections. The Parliament is led by the President of Parliament and is deputized by the First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President.
The Judiciary of Panama is the arm of government tasked to administer justice. The Constitution provides for the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. The Judiciary’s highest court is Supreme Court of Justice which is comprised of nine magistrates who serve ten-year terms after being appointed by the Cabinet Council and approved by the National Assembly. Other courts include the five Superior Courts of Judicial District, Municipal Courts, and the Circuit Courts.
The country is divided into three indigenous regions (known locally as comarcas indigenas) and ten administrative units known as provinces. Each of the ten provinces has its own provincial government. The provinces include Bocas del Toro, Panama Oeste, Chiriqui, Veraguas, Cocle, Colon, Darien, Los Santos, Herrera, and Panama while the indigenous regions or comarcas indigenas are comprised of Guna Yala, Ngabe-Bugle, and Embera. These provinces are further divided into smaller administrative subdivisions known as districts.