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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

El Salvador votes with gang-busting Bukele miles forward

A supporter of the present president and candidate for re-election, Nayib Bukele, performs with a cardboard coffin representing the opposition events Farabundo Marti Nationwide Liberation Entrance (FMLN) and the Nationalist Republican Alliance Social gathering (ARENA) in entrance of the Nationwide Palace on the eve of the presidential and legislative elections in San Salvador on February 3, 2024. (Picture by Yuri CORTEZ / AFP)
| Picture Credit score: YURI CORTEZ

El Salvador goes to the polls on February 4 with victory for gang-busting President Nayib Bukele within the bag and the one query of what number of seats his occasion will declare in a new-look parliament.

Mr. Bukele, 42, enjoys approval rankings hovering round 90% and polls as Latin America’s hottest chief, credited with slashing the nation’s murder price and restoring peace to a violence-weary nation.

His authorities has rounded up greater than 75,000 gangsters – actual and suspected – since a state of emergency came into effect in March 2022.

Hundreds are held in a brand-new jail – plugged as the biggest within the Americas – which the president had inbuilt a matter of months.

And final yr, the nation that was as soon as one of the vital harmful on this planet noticed the homicide price plummet to its lowest degree in three many years – far beneath the world common.

In consequence, Mr. Bukele is all however assured victory within the first voting spherical regardless of considerations about rights violations, creeping authoritarianism and grumblings in regards to the economic system.

“He has been efficient. He cleaned up all these locations (of gangs) the place no one thought it could possibly be completed,” retired architect Claudia Del Velasco, 72, advised AFP within the capital San Salvador, “excited” about casting her vote.

“One feels secure now to go to locations you have not seen for years. Even to find” new ones, she added, although the economic system “can enhance.”

El Salvador’s fearsome gangs took some 120,000 civilian lives in three many years, in response to the federal government.

One-party system

With little must marketing campaign for himself, Mr. Bukele has as a substitute targeted on beating the drum for his occasion, Nuevas Concepts, which holds 56 seats within the present 84-member legislative meeting.

The general variety of seats has been lowered to 60 beneath a Bukele-led reform, in a transfer critics say will make it a lot tougher for smaller events to get sufficient votes to get in.

In 2022, the legislature additionally accepted a legislation permitting Salvadorans to vote overseas.

Underneath that reform, all international ballots – which are inclined to favor Bukele – will rely in the direction of the division of San Salvador which has probably the most undecided seats, in response to the Washington Workplace on Latin America (WOLA), an NGO selling human rights.

WOLA Central America director Ana Maria Mendez Dardon advised AFP the political opposition may all however “disappear” on this election.

“There’s a threat of getting a one-party system in El Salvador,” she stated.

In a message on X this week, Mr. Bukele urged Salvadorans to vote en masse for Nuevas Concepts.

“Our nation has modified, no one can deny it. Our job this Sunday is to make sure that these modifications are endlessly,” he stated.

State violence

Activists say many innocents – together with minors – have been caught up within the anti-gang dragnet, locked up in inhumane situations, even subjected to torture.

In December, an Amnesty Worldwide report raised alarm over the “gradual substitute of gang violence with state violence.”

An obvious centralization of energy can be a priority, with the Bukele-aligned parliament having changed the nation’s high judges and legal professional basic – each establishments he had clashed with.

The Supreme Court docket subsequently allowed him to hunt reelection regardless of a constitutional ban on consecutive phrases.

There are additionally considerations about worsening antagonism in the direction of critics and impartial media, and of opaque public accounting.

El Salvador’s ailing economic system can be a significant problem for Mr. Bukele’s second time period, with excessive public debt and the president’s funding of taxpayer cash in bitcoin broadly seen as a failed gambit.

Almost 30% of Salvadorans lived in poverty in 2022, in response to the UN’s Financial Fee for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Voting in El Salvador will not be obligatory, and turnout was simply over 50% in 2019, when Mr. Bukele gained within the first spherical.

There are simply over 6.2 million eligible voters worldwide, some 740,000 overseas – primarily in the US, in response to electoral authorities.

None of Mr. Bukele’s 5 rival candidates have even 5% of polled assist.

Polls open at 7:00 a.m. and can shut 10 hours later.

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