El Salvador’s Bukele Stirs Controversy with Bid for Re-Election Amid Constitutional Debate

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By Marco Echevarria

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has thrown his hat into the ring for the upcoming presidential election, which has sparked controversy given the country’s constitutional stance on reelection. Bukele, alongside his vice president Félix Ulloa, made a dramatic last-minute registration on Thursday, amidst circulating rumors of his hospitalization. As he emerged from the electoral office, crowds of his supporters cheered him on.

Addressing the crowd, Bukele stated, “We aim to further engage with the global community, but not at the expense of our national sovereignty and independence.”

While the nation’s Constitution traditionally forbids reelection, a 2021 verdict by the Supreme Court of Justice indicates a possibility for a president to contest for a consecutive term. Bukele, riding high on this ruling, declared his intent to run for a second term under the New Ideas Party.

Huge numbers of Bukele’s followers gathered outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Friday, showing their support with chants praising the president and endorsing his reelection.

Brian A. Nichols, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, during his visit to El Salvador, brought up concerns about Bukele’s move. He stressed, however, that the ultimate decision lies with the Salvadoran people. He said, “The crucial conversation is about the election’s legality and authenticity, but Salvadorans should steer that discourse.”

Polls suggest Bukele would likely emerge victorious by a significant lead, mainly due to his aggressive measures against the nation’s notorious gangs.

In his defense, Bukele stated that while certain “advanced nations” might oppose his decision, the choice ultimately rests with the Salvadoran citizens. “It’s up to them to decide the path they want – the new El Salvador we’re building or the past marked by crime,” he said.

Once Bukele’s candidacy gets an official nod, he will need to step down from office before December 1st, as per Vice President Ulloa. This would be followed by the Congress selecting a temporary successor.

However, constitutional experts like Abraham Abrego from the human rights group Cristosal, view Bukele’s move as unlawful. He argued that immediate reelection clearly goes against the Constitution. Still, some legal professionals, considering the Supreme Court’s endorsement, deem the issue moot unless the electoral tribunal deems it invalid, in which case the Supreme Court would have the final say.

Another first in the upcoming February presidential elections in El Salvador is the introduction of remote voting for expatriates. This will also allow them to participate in public office. With electronic booths set up in 29 countries, the majority being in the U.S., 6.1 million Salvadorans, both domestically and abroad, are set to cast their votes.