El Salvador fails to meet minimum standards of electoral integrity: WOLA

Photo of author

By LatAm Reports Editor

WOLA asked the different electoral observers on February 4 to report irregularities or practices that endanger civil rights.

In a context of serious human rights violations and a profound deterioration of the rule of law, on February 4, 2024 Salvadoran citizens will elect president, vice president and deputies of the Legislative Assembly, the Washington Office for Latin American Affairs (WOLA) qualified.

An analysis published Tuesday by WOLA on its website indicates that the integrity of the Salvadoran election is “under questioning.”

He pointed out that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) “has established a series of guidelines that define electoral integrity and are the basis of free, fair and transparent elections.”

He indicated that these are “judicial guarantees, greater transparency, an independent electoral administration, security and publicity of the vote count, equity of resources to compete, and clarity of electoral legal rules.”

“El Salvador has failed to meet these minimum standards for the exercise of political rights,” said the center for the study and promotion of human rights in the Americas.

A few months after the elections, several changes and reforms affecting the electoral process have entered into force a few months after the elections, but the democratic deterioration comes from previous years, WOLA denounced.

At least twenty elements recognize the international body of Nayib Bukele’s government that undermines internal democracy.

The first dates back to 2020 when Bukele publicly rejected Supreme Court rulings to guarantee fundamental rights while the quarantine rules for Covid-19 were applied. The following year, the Bukele Assembly dismissed those magistrates, judges and prosecutors with more than 30 years of service.

Also in 2021, the prosecutor of the Republic, loyal to Bukele, ended the agreement with the OAS to support the International Commission against Impunity and closed the special unit to investigate corruption.

In September of that same year, the new Bukele Chamber issued a resolution endorsing presidential re-election, contrary to the Constitution itself. 2021 closed the year with U.S. sanctions against Bukele officials for negotiating and granting financial incentives to gangs in exchange for reducing homicides.

Is there a high concentration of power in the hands of Bukele and his New Ideas party that retains control of the Legislative Assembly with 55 of 84 seats. Also, a series of actions show constant threats and interference with the judiciary by President Bukele, which limit the guarantees of independence, WOLA lamented.

In 2022 El Salvador in March had a weekend with 87 homicides, so the loss of constitutional guarantees at the national level was approved under the state of emergency.

In addition, in the midst of the national celebration of independence, Bukele took the national network to announce his intention to re-election, despite the fact that he vowed to enforce the country’s Constitution prohibiting such an act.

Re-election is based on a Constitutional Chamber resolution and because Bukele enjoys a lot of popularity due to his repressive security policies, there was no greater reaction from the population, WOLA said.

President Nayib Bukele during the application for registration for his presidential candidacy at the TSE, despite the Constitution prohibiting him. His administration has acquired debt of more than $9 billion. Photo EDH/ Archive

And after the year its assembly passed a new law for voting abroad without discussion or technical evaluation.

And from 2023 the Bukele Assembly repealed the provision not to change the electoral rules with less than a year before elections and began to reduce the number of municipalities and the number of deputies.

WOLA regretted that just eight months before the election, the Legislative Assembly approved a reform that introduces a new method of counting votes: the DuHondt formula that favors the majority parties.

This could undermine the plural regime of political parties guaranteed in the Inter-American Democratic Charter because there is a high risk that New Ideas will become the only ruling party in the Assembly, leaving out the necessary political opposition in any representative democracy, the agency warned.

They also consider as measures that undermine democratic guarantees the amendments to the Criminal Code, to the Organized Crime Act that allow collective trials and to eliminate the maximum period of 24 months for criminal proceedings.

And in 2024, the elections abroad without clear regulations and without electoral supervision.

There have been public signals of the lack of credibility and independence of the judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, as well as limited technical capacities for the supervision of campaign finance, media control and, mainly, to regulate voting abroad, WOLA said.

WOLA contrasted that for elections to be full, judicial guarantees, greater transparency, an independent electoral administration, security and publicity of the vote count, equity of resources to compete, and clarity of electoral legal rules are required for elections to be in full

WOLA also included the incorporation of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency for legal tender in the territory and that there has been a severe setback in access to public information about the electoral process.

The call to the international community

WOLA makes a number of recommendations to the international community, while several countries and international agencies will serve as observers for the process.

First, WOLA stated that in order to guarantee electoral integrity, it is necessary to strengthen civic space, freedom of the press and expression. Civil society must play a key role in this process, as it is a guarantor of democracy.

“Let electoral observation missions issue substantial recommendations to, for example, prevent indefinite re-election that undermines the alternation of power, an essential pillar of representative democracy, and document irregularities or practices that endanger civil rights,” he said.

More than 5.5 million citizens are called to participate in the elections, which will be made in the midst of the controversy over the candidacy for the immediate re-election of President Bukele and in which a high percentage of abstention is also foreseen, according to several analysts.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in El Salvador