The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has the right to stand as a candidate in the next elections, protected by a decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, said the legal adviser to the Presidency, Javier Argueta.
Bukele, who has capitalized on discontent in his country against traditional parties, enjoys high popularity. He assumed the presidency in 2019 for a term that will end in 2024.
The ruling would allow Bukele to potentially seek a second term in 2024.
“No constitutional reform is needed, a Constituent Assembly is not needed, but already Article 152 [of the Constitution], textually says that the president can be a candidate, as long as he has not been president in the immediately preceding period. The text, confirms the court, allows him to enter the competition and the people decide whether to choose him or not,” Argueta told AFP.
The aforementioned article, in the 1983 Constitution, states that “the one who has held the Presidency of the Republic for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the period may not be a candidate for President of the Republic (…) immediately preceding, or within the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential term.”
Argueta specified that, according to the court, the “immediately preceding period” does not refer to Bukele’s current presidency but to the one that preceded him, when he did not govern. He also noted the impediment to be a “candidate,” not to be a “president.”
The magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber who interpreted the text and issued the ruling were appointed this May, after the Legislative Assembly — controlled by Bukele’s allies — dismissed the five magistrates that comprised it.
Argueta said that the previous judges were “dismissed for not defending health rights” by preventing the implementation of President Bukele’s plans to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the appointment of new judges and ruling on reelection have raised fears of a power grab.
“Democracy in El Salvador is on the edge of the abyss” for following “the same script [to interpret the Constitution] used by Daniel Ortega [in Nicaragua] and Juan Orlando Hernández [in Honduras],” warned José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Human Rights Watch Americas Division.
“There is an essential difference of 180 degrees between Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia. They have called constituent assemblies. In the case of Nicaragua, they presented an injunction that doubles [violates] two articles of the Constitution,” Argueta retorted.
For the United States Charge d’Affaires in El Salvador, Jean Manes, the Court’s decision “is clearly contrary to the Salvadoran constitution, which establishes that immediate reelection is not allowed.”
“With all due respect to the ambassador (…) I advised her to meet with independent constitutionalists,” Argueta said.