Incumbent president Nayib Bukele has won a second five-year term in a landslide victory in Sunday’s presidential election in El Salvador. With over 90% of votes counted, Bukele had won more than 80% of the vote according to election authorities.
Overwhelming Mandate for Bukele’s Policies
The huge margin of victory gives Bukele an overwhelming mandate to continue his popular policies cracking down on powerful street gangs. Since launching an emergency “war” on gangs in 2022, Bukele has sent over 50,000 suspected gang members to prison in prolonged detention without trial.
While criticized by human rights groups, the crackdown is widely popular in El Salvador. The country has long suffered under ruthless extortion and violence by powerful gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18. Murder rates have plummeted since Bukele intensified the crackdown last year.
Many voters see the election as a referendum on Bukele’s unprecedented use of emergency powers. His allies won a large majority in legislative elections last year, allowing the extension of anti-gang emergency measures.
“This was a defeat of the opposition parties more than confirmation of Bukele’s popularity,” said political analyst Alvaro Castillo. “Many people voted for Bukele because there was no strong opposition candidate, not because they necessarily love him.”
Weak and Divided Opposition
A divided opposition failed to put forward a strong challenger to Bukele’s reelection bid. Former conservative mayor Carlos Peñate won just 13% of votes while progressive ex-guerilla commander Hugo Martinez managed only 6% support.
Over 20 parties participated in the election, splitting the anti-Bukele vote. His Nuevas Ideas party was the only one to run candidates nationwide. Critics accused Bukele supporters of harassing opposition figures and limiting election observation. But international monitors largely approved of the vote process.
“El Salvador’s civic space is already severely eroded,” warned Kevin Casas of think tank Carnegie Endowment. With weak checks on his power, many are concerned Bukele will become increasingly authoritarian. But his popularity remains unquestioned after decades of public frustration with the political establishment’s corruption and inaction.
What’s Next for El Salvador Under Bukele?
Buoyed by his electoral triumph, Bukele will likely double down on his law-and-order agenda while expanding social programs. Here’s what to expect in his second term:
Prolonged Gang Crackdown
Hardline security policies like imprisoning suspected gang members without trial are likely to ramp up. Overcrowded jails have raised human rights concerns and the policy’s long-term impacts are uncertain. But in the short term, Bukele is committed to crushing gang activities by any means necessary while public support remains high.
Infrastructure and Development
Using controversial emergency powers, Bukele has launched massive public infrastructure projects like a $4 billion “Bitcoin City” and vast new prison complexes. With strong legislative backing and Chinese investment backing him, expect more mega-projects in transport, energy, and technology aimed at boosting economic growth. Critics worry these flashy projects often come at the expense of more pressing social needs though.
Bukele has indicated he wants to reform the constitution to extend presidential term limits, expand executive powers, and make Bitcoin legal tender. With few checks on his power left, he will likely railroad changes eroding judicial independence and media scrutiny as well. Outspoken critics fear a Venezuela-style slide into authoritarian rule. But his supporters counter that strong leadership is what El Salvador needs to overhaul corrupt institutions.
As a self-proclaimed “coolest dictator in the world”, Bukele has championed unconventional policies like adopting Bitcoin as legal tender in 2021. Despite significant criticism the Bitcoin Law has failed to benefit most citizens so far, Bukele is forging ahead. His BTC-funded “Bitcoin City” is underway and he aims to give citizenship to crypto investors. Promoting crypto and technological innovation will remain signature Bukele policies to boost growth and his maverick image globally.
While Bukele’s critics fear increasingly authoritarian tendencies from an emboldened president unchecked by institutions, supporters welcome firm leadership tackling security challenges and modernizing El Salvador’s struggling economy. This landslide election victory leaves no doubt most Salvadorans still firmly support Bukele’s agenda. But with crime falling and infrastructure rapidly developing, his next big challenge will be ensuring citizens feel real economic benefits in their daily lives soon.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.