Under the constitution of 1972, Panama is a republic in which the president, assisted by a cabinet, exercises executive power. Reforms adopted in April 1983 changed the election of the president from an absolute majority of the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives to a direct popular vote, and a second vice president was added. The president and the two vice presidents must be at least 35 years of age and native Panamanians; they serve for five years and are not eligible for immediate reelection.
Legislative power is vested in the unicameral Legislative Assembly, which replaced the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives in 1984. The 72 members are elected for five-year terms by direct popular vote. Regular sessions are from 11 October to 11 November annually, and special sessions may be called by the president. Suffrage is universal for Panamanians 18 years of age or over.
The 1972 constitution conferred extraordinary decision-making powers upon the commander of the Panama Defense Forces (PDF), who was allowed to participate in sessions of all executive and legislative organs, to direct foreign policy, to appoint Supreme Court magistrates, and to appoint and remove ministers of state, among other responsibilities.
The PDF was subsequently converted into a civilian group called the Public Forces. Following a purge of PDF senior officials, the Public Forces were placed under the cabinet-level Minister of Government and Justice.