El Salvador’s Tribunal Clears Bukele for Reelection

In a move that strains the fabric of El Salvador's constitutional law, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has cleared the path for President Nayib Bukele's reelection bid despite constitutional prohibitions against consecutive terms.

Nayib Bukele

10/27/2023.- El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele leaves the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) after registering as a candidate for the presidency of El Salvador. EFE/ Rodrigo Sura

The Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: Tribunal de El Salvador autoriza a Bukele a reelegirse

In the labyrinthine dance of democracy and constitutional adherence, El Salvador has stepped onto a controversial stage. The nation's Supreme Electoral Tribunal, in a decisive yet contentious ruling on Friday, opened the door for President Nayib Bukele to pursue a second consecutive term in the 2024 elections. This move defies the explicit proscription of reelection embedded in the country's Constitution.

A Pivotal Shift in Electoral Dynamics

This pivotal decision, delivered just one week after Bukele registered to run under the banner of the New Ideas party, was not a narrow victory. Electoral authorities cast a four-to-none vote in favor, with one abstention, signifying a substantial institutional shift in favor of Bukele's continued presidency. The Tribunal, forsaking the traditional avenues of public announcement, turned to alternative platforms to proclaim Bukele and his vice-presidential ally, Félix Ulloa, as legally apt to run, indicating their compliance with "the legal requirements."

The president took to the same digital stage to express his satisfaction, touting the unanimous decision in favor of his candidacy as a lawful victory. This endorsement, however, shadows a complex historical context, whereby the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN)—an erstwhile dominant force in Salvadoran politics borne of civil war-era guerilla roots—also received unanimous backing for its candidates. Political vendettas mar the relationship between Bukele and the FMLN; following his 2017 expulsion from the party, Bukele's presidential tenure witnessed a systematic purge of FMLN affiliates from governmental roles, underscoring the rift and animosity between the current regime and the traditional left-wing faction.

The constitutional obstacle to Bukele's ambition stems from a provision explicitly designed to prevent the continuity of power—a post-dictatorial safeguard. Yet, in 2021, a controversial Supreme Court ruling reinterpreted this very provision, ostensibly placing the question of reelection in the hands of Salvadoran voters rather than its constitutional framework. This reinterpretation sparked debate over judicial overreach and the potential erosion of checks and balances within the Salvadoran political system.

Popularity vs. Constitutional Constraints

Despite the constitutional problem, Bukele's popularity among the populace has soared, buoyed by aggressive anti-gang initiatives that have precipitated a drop in crime rates. This hardline stance, while garnering public approval, has not been without its detractors; a state of emergency extending over 18 months has accompanied the suspension of certain constitutional rights, evoking fears of authoritarian regression.

The international community and constitutional purists are concerned as the bedrock principles of democratic rotation through elections appear undermined. Critics argue that this set of developments could set a dangerous precedent, not just for El Salvador but for the broader Latin American region, where the specter of past dictatorships still looms large over the political landscape.

For Bukele, the electoral landscape appears favorable. Recent polls depict a leader whose political capital is at its zenith, with an electorate seemingly willing to overlook constitutional breaches in favor of perceived security and progress.

Also read: It's Official: The Electoral Campaign For The Presidency of El Salvador Has Already Begun

A Crucial Test for El Salvador's Legal Foundations

As El Salvador teeters on the edge of a legal precipice, the situation is a testament to the dynamic and often precarious interplay between law and popular will. Bukele's rerun, albeit constitutionally contentious, is symbolic of a broader struggle within emerging democracies—balancing the rigid frameworks of law against the fluid and sometimes tumultuous seas of public opinion and political aspiration.

In this story of constitutional elasticity, the coming elections will not only decide a presidency. Still, they will also test the resilience of a nation's commitment to its foundational legal statutes. El Salvador, under Bukele's polarizing figure, will undoubtedly remain a focal point in the discourse on the limits of executive power and the enduring quest for democratic stability in Latin America.

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