El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has registered as his party’s candidate to seek re-election in the country’s presidential election next year, a decision already causing concern on Friday because the constitution prohibits it.
Bukele and his running mate, incumbent Vice President Felix Ulloa, were the last to sign up before Thursday’s midnight deadline. In typical Bukele fashion, the last-minute registration became a spectacle, amid rumors that the president had been hospitalized. Instead, he walked out of the polling stations to a crowd of cheering supporters.
“We are ready to change what we need to change to be able to join the community of nations even more, but always respecting our sovereignty and independence,” Bukele said, speaking over a loudspeaker.
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El Salvador’s Constitution prohibits re-election, but in 2021, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that one of its articles allows the president — who serves a five-year term — to run for re-election once. Bukele announced he would seek a second term with the New Ideas Party a year later.
Thousands of Bukele’s supporters gathered early Friday in front of the Supreme Electoral Court and did not leave until the president came out to shake their hands, amid chants of “Re-election, re-election” and “Najib, my friend, the people are with you. “
US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols, who visited El Salvador, went on a local television show Friday morning to raise questions about Bukele’s decision, insisting it was not up to other countries to decide.
“There needs to be a broad debate about the legality and legitimacy of the election, but it’s a debate for Salvadorans,” Nichols said, ahead of a meeting with Bukele.
Salvadorans “will have the opportunity to express their will at the polls and they can decide whether they agree or disagree with this process,” he told reporters afterward.
According to several polls, Bukele would win re-election by a wide margin. He maintained growing popularity numbers for his tough crackdown on the country’s powerful street gangs.
Bukele, who pointed out that some “developed countries” may disagree with his decision to run, insisted, “They are not the ones who will decide, but the people of El Salvador. The people of El Salvador will decide if they want to continue to is building this new El Salvador, or if they want to go back to that country that was known for gangs and death.”
Ulloa recently explained that once Bukele’s candidacy is formalized, the president will have to ask Congress for permission to leave office before December 1, six months before the start of the new presidential term. Congress will then elect an interim replacement.
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Constitutional lawyers, such as Abraham Abrego with the human rights organization Cristosal, argue that the president’s re-election bid is illegal.
“Direct re-election is expressly prohibited by six constitutional articles, as well as by the spirit of the 1983 Constitution, which established a five-year presidential term without the possibility of direct re-election,” Abrego said.
Other lawyers, while acknowledging that re-election is prohibited, point out that the Supreme Court’s approval makes it a non-issue, adding that if the electoral court rules that it is an illegal application, the final decision will go back to the same division of the Supreme Court, which already ruled in favor of Bukele’s bid.
The prospect of re-election is not the only innovation coming to El Salvador’s presidential race in February. Remote, online voting from abroad will be allowed for the first time, and electronic booths will be available in 29 countries, with the most booths in the US
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A total of 6.1 million Salvadorans are eligible to vote, including thousands living abroad, who will also be able to run for public office.