( Spanish) — El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele is defying his country’s Constitution by seeking a second term. This Sunday, the Nuevas Ideas party held its primaries with him as the only candidate. Some observers have called this unconstitutional, but the president’s team dismisses any illegality in this process.
The New Ideas party has opened voting for a candidate for next year, when general elections are held. In the case of the presidency and vice presidency, Bukele participated as the only candidacy along with Félix Ulloa.
The process started in September 2021 and is materializing step by step.
The controversy of the possible re-election of Bukele: what the ruling party says and what the constitutionalists argue
There is controversy in El Salvador about this decision that the president and his party have taken to take him as a candidate, since some constitutionalists say that at least five articles of the constitution prohibit immediate re-election from taking place. However, from the ruling party it is considered that there is a possibility that a second term could be aspired to —and according to the official analysis— the president and vice president would have to resign on the last day of November: leave the position for six months to be able to aspire to a new period.
In this case, the Legislative Assembly would have to appoint the first and second designated to the presidency to assume the Presidency and the Vice Presidency of El Salvador.
There are several constitutionalists in El Salvador who say that this would not be possible, but the Government says that there is even a ruling by the Constitutional Chamber, which was appointed by the current Assembly —with an official majority—, which established that it was possible to aspire to a second period.
For Eduardo Escobar, executive director of Acción Ciudadana, a non-profit association specializing in social control, Bukele’s candidacy “is undoubtedly unconstitutional.”
“In El Salvador, immediate re-election is prohibited by the Constitution,” Escobar explained to . “[La Constitución] It has several provisions that clearly state that whoever held the presidency in the period prior to the new term cannot hold the presidency.”
“He could run later, for the period 2029-2034, for example. But for this coming one, which begins in 2024, the president is prohibited from running,” says Escobar.
So, how to understand the ruling of the Constitutional Chamber, issued in September 2021, which gave way to all this?
The change in the Constitutional Chamber of 2021
In 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, with an official majority, dismissed the main and alternate magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the attorney general, Raúl Melara. In addition, the deputies on their first day of work elected and swore in the new judges, which was criticized by the international community for the lack of counterweights of a democracy and the disrespect for the separation of powers.
For Escobar “that ‘Constitutional Chamber’, in quotes, is a group of lawyers who were imposed by the president accompanying the decision of the Legislative Assembly: they are not legitimately appointed, they are not legitimately elected magistrates, but, as I say, It is a court, supposed court, that the president himself made to measure”.
The director of Acción Ciudadana assures that the resolutions of that room “lack legal legitimacy” and that the legitimate judges were those dismissed in 2021.
Escobar assures that El Salvador is in the final stages “that lead a country to have a dictatorship.”
“We saw this in Nicaragua, we saw it in Venezuela precisely when rulers legitimately come to power, win over the people, use populism to ingratiate themselves with the people, then dismiss officials, place those they want and those who like them in important positions such as the prosecutor, the Constitutional Chamber, etc., etc. And then they violate human rights, repress the press, repress the protest, for example, they attack those who think differently and end up reforming the electoral rules that already they did in El Salvador. They are already reformed for the 2024 election, which favors the Nuevas Ideas party and endorses re-election.”
With information from Merlin Delcid and Jennifer Montoya