Incumbent President Secures Second Term with Over 85% of the Vote
Incumbent Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has declared himself the winner in Sunday’s presidential election, claiming a landslide victory with over 85% of the vote according to preliminary results.
Bukele addressed supporters Sunday night to announce his victory. “Our people voted to continue with the freedom and peace that we have begun to build,” he said.
The President’s allies also won a majority in the national legislature, further consolidating his control over Salvadoran politics.
The dominant win comes despite condemnation from human rights groups and foreign governments over Bukele’s authoritarian tactics. But his popularity remains sky-high in El Salvador due to his tough policies aimed at crushing powerful street gangs.
Critics Allege Election Irregularities
Bukele’s challengers have cried foul, alleging widespread irregularities and lack of transparency around the vote counting process.
Opposition candidate Carlos Marquez said “We have received complaints of voters who were forced to vote openly, without the privacy of a voting booth, as well as other accusations of fraud across the country.”
International observers reported problems accessing some polling stations and were denied information by electoral authorities. Domestic observers faced more severe restrictions that prevented them from properly monitoring the process.
The Organization of American States said the elections were held in a “climate of fear” due the government’s repressive actions, including the jailing of opponents.
Bukele Pursues Controversial Anti-Gang Crackdown
Bukele’s first term has been defined by his relentless crackdown on notorious gangs like MS-13. A dramatic escalation in 2022 gave police new powers to arrest and detain suspected gang members without trial.
Over 56,000 suspected criminals have been jailed, including the mass roundup of entire neighborhoods. Bukele touts the crackdown as the reason for a precipitous drop in El Salvador’s extremely high murder rate.
But human rights organizations allege widespread abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings by security forces. They also question whether the anti-gang measures violate civil liberties or constitute unlawful detention.
What Will Bukele’s Second Term Hold?
More Anti-Gang Measures: With public security a top issue for Salvadorans, Bukele is likely to intensify his crackdown despite objections. Proposed “mega-prisons” will consolidate gang inmates isolated from outside contact.
Tighter Grip on Power: Bukele has repeatedly defied Supreme Court rulings and shown contempt for other democratic checks on his authority. With a supermajority behind him, he may undertake constitutional changes to expand presidential power. Critics fear he is cementing one-man rule.
Bitcoin Development: As the first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, El Salvador may double down on crypto under Bukele’s technology-friendly administration. However, the IMF has urged dropping bitcoin over financial stability concerns.
Slow Improvements in Civil Rights: Reforms related to free speech, judicial independence and women’s rights are not expected to be priorities for Bukele. However, gang suppression means better security could lead to economic gains that eventually spur liberalization.
While Bukele is praised as a dynamic, tech-savvy leader committed to progress, his democratic legitimacy will remain under a cloud without political reforms. Ultimately his legacy depends on whether he continues El Salvador’s democratic traditions or follows the region’s history of slide into dictatorship.
Timeline of Key Events
|February 3, 2024
|Election Day: Salvadorans go to polls for presidential vote
|February 5, 2024
|Bukele declares victory with over 85% of vote
|State of emergency declared; extraordinary police powers enacted to arrest suspected gang members
|Over 56,000 jailed after mass detentions, arrests soar to 1,500 per day
|Supreme Court rules Bukele cannot seek reelection
|Congress removed judges, attorney general; replaced with Bukele allies
|Bukele takes office as President
Quotes from Foreign Leaders and Observers
“El Salvador is sadly living proof of how quickly the rule of law and judicial independence can erode when leaders prioritize power over democratic principles.” – Samantha Power, USAID Administrator
“President Bukele’s attacks on democracy, disrespect for fundamental rights and freedoms, and concentration of power should be of grave concern to the international community.” – Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch
“President Bukele enjoys widespread support. But elections are only free and fair when the press, civil society and opposition parties can operate without fear of state coercion or violence.” – Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary General of International IDEA
“The Salvadoran people want an end to corruption and violence. If President Bukele uses his mandate to foster real reform rather than personal power, he can transform his nation.” – Michael Shifter, President of Inter-American Dialogue
Additional Context and Supporting Evidence
El Salvador has had one of the highest homicide rates in the world for years. Gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 exert control through extortion, murder, drug trafficking and other crimes.
In September 2021, the Supreme Court ruled Bukele could not seek reelection since El Salvador’s constitution prohibits consecutive terms. His supporters later sacked the judges who opposed him.
An estimated 1.8 million Salvadorans live in the US and their remittances are a key part of the economy. Their votes likely aided Bukele’s dominant electoral performance.
Since adopting bitcoin, the cryptocurrency has seen sluggish real world usage but Bukele remains a crypto enthusiast. He sees it as way to increase financial inclusion.
Public approval of Bukele’s presidency was at 85% as of January 2024. However, pollsters say Salvadorans still support democracy as the best system of government.
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