The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, proclaimed his reelection this Sunday by attributing more than 85% of the votes to himself, and said he had “pulverized” the opposition by winning almost the entire Congress, thanks to his controversial “war” against gangs.
“El Salvador has broken all the records of all the democracies in the world,” he celebrated from the balcony of the National Palace, in the historic center of San Salvador, greeting a crowd that was cheering him on in the central square.
“We have not only won the presidency with more than 85% of the votes, but we have also won the Legislative Assembly with 58 out of 60 deputies, at a minimum,” he said, provoking an outburst of fireworks. “The opposition was pulverized,” he said.
Bukele, a 42-year-old publicist of Palestinian descent, praised his anti-gang “war” that turned the “most dangerous country in the world” into the “safest in the Western Hemisphere,” with 2.4 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023.
“El Salvador was with metastases, but we did surgery, we are in radiation therapy, and we are going to get out healthy without the cancer of the gangs,” he had said earlier at a press conference.
The president, who has already been congratulated by the governments of China, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, defended the state of exception regime he imposed in March 2022 and which has nearly 76,000 detainees.
“They say that Salvadorans do not want the state of exception regime, that they live in fear (…) The Salvadoran people spoke loud and clear and in the most forceful way,” he stated.
But organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch denounce arbitrary arrests, torture and deaths in prison. Some 7,000 innocent people were released, but many remain imprisoned.
Democracy of a single party
Thousands of supporters were shouting, dancing and blowing whistles in front of the National Palace, flanked by the cathedral and a modern library built with a donation from China.
“We are more than happy about that victory, we are going to have Bukele for five more years,” said nurse Lorena Escobar, 38, enthusiastically.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has not yet given a percentage, but on its website, Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas, appears with 1.3 million out of 1.6 million valid votes, which gives 83%, after 31.49% of the vote records were counted.
The opposition was shattered. None of the five candidates, including those from the leftist Farabundo Martí Front (FMLN), Manuel Flores, and from the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena), Joel Sánchez, managed to get more than 7%.
“It would be the first time that a single-party system exists in a democracy,” Bukele assured, who also controls parliament, justice and the rest of the state apparatus, in addition to the parliament.
But the president, with a well-groomed beard, gelled hair, and who dresses in jeans and sweaters, never with a tie, mocks those who accuse him of being autocratic, describing himself as a “cool dictator”.
Magistrates renewed by that Congress interpreted the Constitution in his favor and, despite reelection being prohibited, allowed him to run again, which analysts and opponents consider unconstitutional.
“I don’t think an electoral reform is necessary,” the most popular president in Latin America said at the press conference, according to a regional survey, regarding his reelection and a possible third term.
Prosperity is coming
This millennial fond of social media, with a well-groomed beard and gelled hair, came to power in 2019 with 53% of the vote and promises of “change” for a population tired of the Arena-FMLN bipartisanship that did not solve the problems of insecurity and poverty.
“Now it’s our time to move forward. What’s next for El Salvador now is a period of prosperity,” the president said at the press conference.
29% of the 6.5 million Salvadorans living in the country are poor, according to ECLAC, and many continue to emigrate to the United States in search of work. Some 3 million live abroad and send vital remittances of $8 billion annually.
“Now that he has won he must reflect on what he must do to improve the economy, that is what the people are telling him to do,” mason Estanislao Guevara, 51, said, defining himself as an admirer of the president.
Despite his great popularity, the president failed to get Salvadorans to use the bitcoin he imposed in 2021 as legal tender in a dollarized economy, according to him, to boost it.
With between five and seven million followers on social media X, Tiktok, Instagram and Facebook, Bukele, father of two girls, also promotes mega projects and tourism in “the safest country in Latin America”.