President Nayib Bukele was officially nominated by his New Ideas party Sunday to run for reelection next year, brushing aside objections from legal experts and opposition figures who say El Salvador’s constitution prohibits his candidacy.
New Ideas also announced that current Vice President Felix Ulloa would run for reelection in the ballot scheduled for Feb. 4, 2024.
Bukele is highly popular among Salvadorans because of his harsh crackdown on street gangs, but he is considered controversial internationally. He announced in September that he planned to seek a second five-year term.
That came after the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, handpicked by his supporters in Congress, ruled in 2021 that his candidacy for reelection was permitted and ordered the electoral court to allow it.
Constitutional lawyers maintain that Bukele’s candidacy would violate at least four articles of the constitution, including Article 154, which states: “The presidential term will be five years and will begin and end on June 1, without the person who has held the presidency being able to continue in their functions even one more day.”
But Ulloa, who is a well-known lawyer, said Bukele just has to ask Congress for a leave of absence by Dec. 1 in order to be able to run again.
True to his populist form, Bukele depicted the announcement as a blow to financier and philanthropist George Soros.
“The Soros media say that Salvadorans can't decide for themselves,” Bukele wrote on Twitter, his favorite medium. “But the greatest party in history spoke today, and on February 4th, 2024, the Salvadoran people will have the last word.”
While constitutional bans on reelection were once common in Latin America — where some countries have a history of “caudillo” strongmen perpetuating themselves in power — those term limits have been removed, overturned or ignored in a number of cases, including Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia.
Bukele, who maintains approval ratings above 80%, has led a crackdown on the country’s powerful street gangs that has landed more than 60,000 people in jail on suspicion of gang ties.
Despite suspending some fundamental rights for more than a year, the measures have been widely popular. Communities that lived under the constant extortion and violence of the gangs are returning to life.
But there have been thousands of complaints of rights violations, and obervers say many young men appear to have been rounded up simply because of their appearance, or where they live.