Panama is holding a presidential election on Sunday while facing an odd situation: The most prominent player in the race is not on the ballot.

Ricardo Martinelli, a former president of the Central American nation who is known to his supporters as “El loco,” or the crazy one, had been a top contender until he was disqualified because of a money-laundering conviction.

But from inside the Nicaraguan Embassy in Panama City, where he was granted asylum, Mr. Martinelli has been strenuously campaigning for José Raúl Mulino, a former public security minister who was his running mate and took his place on the ballot.

Mr. Mulino has led the polls in a field of eight candidates, vowing to return Panama to the economic growth it experienced under Mr. Martinelli, who was president from 2009 to 2014.

Political chaos has characterized the election, which takes place amid widespread frustration with the current government and in the aftermath of major protests last year against a copper-mining contract that demonstrators said would damage the environment.

The candidates are competing for a five-year term in a single-round vote — whoever receives the highest percentage of votes wins. Voters will also be choosing representatives for the National Assembly and local governments.


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