El Salvador’s Bukele wins in a landslide and promises to continue anti-gang crackdown

Feb 5, 2024 | 0 comments

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, has won a landslide victory in elections after voters cast aside concerns about erosion of democracy to reward him for a fierce gang crackdown that transformed security in the central American country.

Nayib Bukele greets supporters next to his wife, Gabriela Rodriguez. Thousands of Bukele’s supporters thronged San Salvador’s central square to celebrate his re-election.

Thousands of Bukele’s supporters clad in cyan blue and waving flags thronged San Salvador’s central square to celebrate his re-election, which the 42-year-old leader termed a “referendum” on his government.

Bukele declared himself the winner before official results were announced, claiming to have attained more than 85% of the vote. Provisional results showed Bukele winning 83% support with 70% of the ballots counted.

His New Ideas party is expected to win almost all of the 60 seats in the legislative body, tightening its grip on the country and bestowing Bukele, the most powerful leader in El Salvador’s modern history, with even more sway.

“All together the opposition was pulverised,” Bukele, standing with his wife on the balcony of the National Palace, told his supporters. “El Salvador went from being the most unsafe [country] to the safest. Now in these next five years, wait to see what we are going to do.”

New Ideas’ electoral success means Bukele will wield unprecedented power and be able to overhaul El Salvador’s constitution, which his opponents fear will result in scrapping of term limits.

Wildly popular, Bukele has campaigned on the success of his security strategy under which authorities suspended civil liberties to arrest more than 75,000 Salvadorans without charges. The detentions led to a sharp decline in nationwide murder rates and fundamentally altered a country of 6.3 million people that was once among the world’s most dangerous.

Some analysts have said the mass incarceration of 1% of the population is not sustainable in the long term.

Hours earlier, bullish Bukele held a press conference and said his party needed all the support it could muster to maintain its anti-gang fight and continue reshaping El Salvador.

“So, if we have already overcome our cancer, with metastases that were the gangs, now we only have to recover and be the person we always wanted to be,” said Bukele.

Few doubted the outcome of the elections. Polls showed most voters wanted to reward Bukele for decimating the crime groups that made life intolerable in El Salvador and fuelled waves of migration to the United States.

Candidates for FMLN and Arena, two parties that rotated power between them until 2019, were set to receive single-digit support as voters once again rejected traditional parties whose rule was marked by violence and corruption for decades.

A firebrand politician who often spars with foreign leaders and critics on social media, Bukele came to power in 2019 trouncing traditional parties with a vow to eliminate gang violence and rejuvenate a stagnant economy.

He used his party’s supermajority in the legislative assembly to pack the courts with loyalists and overhaul state institutions, solidifying his control of key parts of the government. He also championed the introduction of bitcoin as legal tender, drawing criticism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

El Salvador’s supreme electoral tribunal last year permitted him to run for a second term even though the country’s constitution prohibits it. Opponents fear Bukele will seek to rule for life, following the example of Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega.
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Credit: The Guardian

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