Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, has achieved a resounding win in the elections, as voters overlooked worries about potential threats to democracy and praised his bold efforts in curbing gang violence, which greatly improved safety in the region.
Preliminary data revealed on Monday morning displayed Bukele securing 83% of the vote with approximately 70% of the ballots tallied. Bukele proclaimed victory before the official results were declared, boasting to have achieved over 85% of the support.
Tens of thousands of Bukele’s followers gathered in San Salvador’s main square, dressed in cyan blue and holding flags, to commemorate his victory in the re-election. The 42-year-old president referred to it as a “referendum” on his administration.
The New Ideas party is predicted to secure nearly all 60 seats in the legislative body, strengthening its control over the nation and granting Bukele, the most dominant leader in El Salvador’s recent past, even greater influence.
“The entire opposition was completely defeated,” Bukele declared to his supporters while standing on the balcony of the National Palace with his wife. “El Salvador has transformed from the most dangerous country to the safest. Just wait and see what we will accomplish in the next five years.”
The success of New Ideas in the election gives Bukele a significant amount of power and the ability to make major changes to El Salvador’s constitution. This has caused concern among his opponents, as they fear he will eliminate term limits.
Bukele, who is widely praised, has focused his campaign on the achievements of his security plan, which involved restricting civil rights in order to detain over 75,000 Salvadorans without formal charges. This resulted in a significant decrease in overall murder rates and fundamentally transformed a nation of 6.3 million that was previously known as one of the most dangerous in the world.
According to certain analysts, the long-term viability of imprisoning 1% of the population is questionable.
Earlier in the day, the optimistic Bukele held a media briefing and expressed the need for his party to receive as much support as possible in order to sustain their efforts against gangs and keep transforming El Salvador.
Bukele stated, “Now that we have conquered our cancer and its metastases, we must focus on recovering and becoming the person we have always aspired to be.”
Many people were confident in the election results. Surveys indicated that the majority of voters wished to recognize Bukele for his efforts in dismantling the criminal organizations that caused unbearable living conditions in El Salvador and contributed to the increase in immigration to the United States.
Guadalupe Guillen, a 55-year-old shopkeeper, showed up at the victory party dressed in a tunic and Arab scarf, a nod to Bukele’s Palestinian family heritage.
Guillen expressed her gratitude for being freed from the grip of gang violence and no longer having to pay $300 (£238) every two weeks as extortion. She also acknowledged God’s role in their celebration and their determination to not return to their difficult past.
Guillen stated that democracy is not in danger, as all citizens have voted for Bukele. This echoes the government’s position in response to concerns from western nations about potential authoritarianism under Bukele.
The parties of FMLN and Arena, which took turns in power until 2019, were predicted to receive minimal support as voters continue to reject traditional parties that have been plagued by violence and corruption for many years.
Bukele, a fiery politician known for engaging in heated debates with international leaders and dissenters online, rose to prominence in 2019 by defeating established political parties and promising to eradicate gang violence and revitalize a stagnant economy.
Using his political party’s overwhelming majority in the legislative assembly, he strategically filled the courts with supporters and reformed state institutions, further cementing his influence over crucial aspects of the government. Additionally, he advocated for the adoption of bitcoin as a recognized form of currency, garnering disapproval from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Last year, the highest electoral court in El Salvador allowed him to run for a second term despite the country’s constitution prohibiting it. His opponents are concerned that Bukele may attempt to become a lifelong ruler, taking after Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega.
According to Josue Galdamez, a 39-year-old businessman and trader who supported Bukele due to his efforts against gangs, the general consensus is that re-electing the president goes against the constitution. However, what people truly desire is a sense of security, and they are willing to overlook the constitutional aspect in order to achieve it.
When questioned by journalists on Sunday about the possibility of amending the constitution to allow for unlimited re-election, Bukele stated that he did not believe such a reform would be needed. However, he did not explicitly address whether he would seek a third term.
The Chinese embassy in San Salvador congratulated Bukele and his party on their historic election victory in a post on X.
Human rights organizations have stated that El Salvador’s democratic system is being threatened. Bukele has casually dismissed these concerns, even going so far as to change his profile on X to declare himself as the “coolest dictator in the world.”
Bukele’s primary obstacle during his second term will probably be the economy, which has been the slowest growing in Central America during his tenure. A significant portion of Salvadorans, over a quarter, currently reside in poverty.
The number of people living in extreme poverty has increased by two times and there has been a significant decrease in private investments under Bukele’s leadership. However, there has been little progress on his widely publicized proposal for Bitcoin City, which is meant to be a tax-free hub for cryptocurrency use, fueled by geothermal energy from a volcano.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is currently in talks with El Salvador to secure a $1.3 billion bailout. In late 2023, the IMF characterized the country’s fiscal condition as “vulnerable”.