efe-epaBy Maria M. Mur Panama City

Ricardo Lombana, who in the last presidential election was the first independent candidate ever to reach third place, is currently deciding whether to continue with his movement "Otro Camino Panama" (Another Path Panama) or transform it into a political party, but with a marked difference from traditional parties' way of operating.

"We have made history. Never before has an independent won a similar volume of votes with hardly any funding, without political experience and without a national party structure," Lombana said in an interview with EFE at the communications consultancy he directed before going into politics.

Despite being practically unknown several months ago, the attorney and journalist won in the last May 5 elections a total of 368,962 votes (18.78 percent), even beating the candidate for the governing Panameñista Party (PPA), Jose Blandon (8.8 percent).

Laurentino Cortizo of the historic Social Democratic Party (PRD) came out on top with 33.3 percent of the vote, winning by a very close margin over Romulo Roux of the liberal Democratic Change (CD) in the closest Panamanian elections in recent years.

After this political feat, Lombana is judging the future of his project and how to approach the elections within the next five years. He favors taking advantage of all the options as an independent group, despite the election regulations that strictly limit political participation by civil groups.

"The movement plans to not only take power, but to open the way to modernizing Panamanian democracy in line with the most modern democracies," Lombana said, while categorically refusing to enter the future Cortizo government as an independent: "That's not what people voted for."

The emergence of the independent movement in the last elections was also notable in Congress where out of the 71 seats, five lawmakers not belonging to any political party were elected and who have announced the organization of a legislative bench.

"I started out the campaign as the least-known candidate of the seven running for president. I had two challenges: that the public learn who I am and getting them to vote for me. The other candidates were already known to the whole country," Lombana said.

Experts say the key to his success was the fact that Panamanians were fed up with the multiple corruption scandals in recent years, something that hurt traditional parties and sparked an active campaign on social media, which mobilized the youth vote, especially in the capital.