Bukele granted leave of Absence for reelection Bid

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By Marco Echevarria

In a significant political development in El Salvador, the nation’s Congress has approved a six-month leave of absence for President Nayib Bukele, enabling him to campaign for reelection in the 2024 general elections. This decision was passed late on Thursday, with 67 out of 84 deputies voting in favor.

According to the decree, Bukele’s leave, spanning from December 1, 2023, to May 31, 2024, will be without salary but he will retain all the privileges associated with the presidential office. This arrangement does not sever Bukele’s connection to the presidency but merely pauses his active engagement in the role’s duties.

During his absence, Claudia Rodriguez, the head of the National Directorate of Municipal Works, will assume Bukele’s responsibilities. The decree also extends leave to Vice President Félix Ulloa, who plans to seek reelection alongside Bukele as part of the Nuevas Ideas (NI) party.

An important aspect of the Congress’s decision is the continuation of Bukele’s immunity, ensuring that he cannot face criminal prosecution without Congressional approval.

This move follows a controversial 2021 ruling by El Salvador’s Supreme Court, which revised the procedure allowing Bukele to participate in the upcoming elections. Previously, a president had to wait a decade after their term to seek the presidency again. Despite legal challenges and criticisms from constitutional lawyers regarding the legality of the Supreme Court’s decision and the election of its magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal recently confirmed Bukele’s candidacy as legally valid.

This development marks a historical moment for El Salvador, as the last instance of a president seeking immediate reelection occurred during the dictatorship of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in 1935. The opposition, including Congressman Johnny Wright of the Nuestro Tiempo (NT) party, has expressed concern over this situation, describing it as a tragedy for El Salvador and the broader region.

President Bukele, previously the mayor of San Salvador, is internationally recognized for his aggressive stance against gangs in El Salvador, a policy that has been criticized for alleged human rights violations.