The Panamanian nation is organized as a sovereign and independent state, known as the Republic of Panama. The power is solely vested in the people and exercised by the state, which functions through the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, as is expressed in the first two articles of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama, which lays down the social, economic and political principles of the country.
To date, Panama has had four constitutions, introduced in the years 1904, 1941, 1946 and 1972. The latter was revised in 1983. A noteworthy constitutional amendment, voted by two successive assemblies in 1994, affirms that Panama will have no army, only bodies of specialized police.
The government of Panama is divided into a central government and ''decentralized" government entities. The central government is led by the cabinet, which consists of the president, vice presidents and ministers of state under the direction of the president. Thus, the cabinet represents the three powers of the state: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Comptroller General's office and the Electoral Tribunal are also represented on the Cabinet.
The Executive branch comprises the president, the vice-presidents and the ministers of state. The president and the first and second vice presidents are elected by direct popular vote, and the president chooses the ministers.
There are thirteen ministries: Ministry of the Presidency, Ministry of Government and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI), Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA), Ministry of Public Works (MOP), Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labor and Job Development (MITRAB), Ministry of Housing (MIVI), Ministry of Canal Affairs, and Ministry of Youth, Children, Women and Family.
The Legislative Assembly is composed of members elected by popular vote from electoral districts at the same time as the presidential vote. These legislators serve for five years and may be reelected for one consecutive period. The Legislative Assembly must approve the nominations that the president makes for ministers of state and high court judges. Among its functions are: to make, reform or repeal the nation's laws and regulations, approve or disapprove international treaties negotiated by the executive arm, approve the budget and establish or change political divisions. The Assembly is also charged with the responsibility of assisting the Executive branch to maintain a state of peace and it has the power to declare war.
The judiciary comprises the Supreme Court, subordinate tribunals and district and municipal courts. The Supreme Court consists of nine judges who serve a ten-year term. Among the functions of the Supreme Court is the enforcement of the constitution, dealing with criminal proceedings against functionaries of the state, and finding administrative solutions in labor disputes in government entities.
The Electoral Tribunal
The Electoral Tribunal is an autonomous institution charged with making and interpreting the electoral laws, and directing the electoral process. It consists of three judges, elected for ten years and one representative each from the Legislative Assembly, the Supreme Court and the Executive branch. The Electoral Tribunal also organizes the process of "cedulación" or provision of identity cards to all Panamanian citizens over 18 years of age.
The Office of the Governor
The Governor is the highest authority of each of the provinces. This position is named directly by the president.
The Municipalities are autonomous political community organizations established in all districts of the country. Each municipality has a municipal council of elected representatives. The role of the municipalities includes promoting development and social welfare of each community, execution of national laws, and the establishment and operation of works and services within the community.
The General Comptroller's Department is another independent state entity with the responsibility of the nation's budget, its internal and external debt, of managing public funds and property, of rendering financial statements of public funds to the Executive Branch and of preparing national statistics.
The decentralized institutions fall under the responsibility of a ministry and follow the policies of the Government. Some autonomous institutions are: National Mortgage Bank, National Bank, the Government Savings Bank, Social Security Organization, Regulatory Entity for Public Services, National Lottery, University of Panama, Technical University, and the Colon Free Zone.
Some semi-autonomous institutions are: Comptroller General's Department, Attorney General’s Office, Tourist Bureau, Fair Trade and Customers Affairs Commission, Bank of Agricultural Development, Agricultural Research Institute, Agricultural Marketing Institute, Agricultural Insurance Institute, Autonomous Cooperatives Institute, Civil Aeronautics, National Maritime Authority, Institute for Special Skill Training, National Culture Institute, National Sports Institute, Scholarship Institute, National Aqueduct and Sewage System Institute, National Transport Authority.
A special case is the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), created in the 14th Constitutional title to administer the Canal and its watershed. Due to its importance, it enjoys financial autonomy, has its own assets and the right to manage them; its three-year budget is not part of the State’s general budget.
ACP’s management is handled by an executive board of 11 members; one of them is nominated by the President, acts as Minister of State for Canal Affairs and presides over the board.