After El Salvador Election, Bukele Is on Verge of Close to-Whole Management

MEXICO CITY – El Salvador’s populist president stood ready on Monday to secure a sweeping victory in the country’s general election, deal a crushing blow to establishment parties and give the young leader, accused of authoritarian tendencies, a powerful new mandate .

When 39-year-old President Nayib Bukele came to power in 2019, he vowed to revise Salvadoran politics. In Sunday’s elections, he appeared to be doing just that.

Mr Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas – New Ideas – perhaps with the help of a political ally, appeared on track to get a majority in the legislative assembly: 56 out of 84 seats.

“Let’s think about what we’ve achieved,” Bukele told his supporters on Twitter early Monday. “We are writing the history of our country.”

The vote cemented Mr Bukele’s influence on El Salvadorian politics and gave his party extensive powers to replace his most determined opponents, including the Attorney General, and to appoint new members to the Supreme Court. And with Congress and the judiciary full of allies, Mr Bukele could change the constitution and possibly change the government’s image.

“There is no control over his power,” said David Holiday, regional manager for Central America at the Open Society Foundation. “People have given him a kind of blank check to rebuild El Salvador as he sees fit.”

The strong performance for Nuevas Ideas came despite allegations of electoral fraud from Mr Bukele and other party members.

In a move that could have come straight out of former President Donald J. Trump’s playbook to whom Mr Bukele has been compared, the Salvadoran President convened a press conference Sunday during the vote to allege irregularities in the vote on the attack Supreme Electoral Court in the country, the news media and the Attorney General.

The President complained that polling stations opened late and that his party had been denied permission to watch the vote. He also alleged that some people were illegally banned from casting a ballot without showing evidence.

At the press conference, Mr. Bukele encouraged voters to cast their ballots for Nuevas Ideas and appeared to be ignoring Salvadoran electoral law, which bans campaigning in the three days leading up to the election.

The country’s electoral court said it would open an investigation into Mr Bukele’s comments. While recognizing errors in the issuing of ID cards to officials of the President’s Party, it said local authorities were free to allow them into polling stations.

On Sunday, the top American diplomat in El Salvador warned against making unsubstantiated claims about irregularities in the electoral process.

“It is very important not to say that there is fraud where there is no fraud,” said Brendan O’Brien, acting head of the US embassy in San Salvador, in an interview with Salvadoran media. “It’s important to wait for the results.”

Comments from Mr. O’Brien, who assumed responsibility on the day of Mr. Biden’s inauguration, could indicate a strained relationship with the new administration in Washington. Following its predecessor’s approach to authoritarian governments, the Biden government could seek considerable leverage to curb Mr. Bukele’s tendencies.

“I expect them to be very tough,” said Mr. Holiday of the Open Society Foundation. He added that he expects the Biden government to work to raise the voices of civil society and “legitimize actors that the government itself does not want to legitimize”.

For the voters in El Salvador, Mr Bukele’s frequent flirtations with the autocracy seemed to mean little: in the end, the president’s promise for a better future for the country, combined with a sophisticated communication strategy, prevailed.

“I voted for Nuevas Ideas because I saw from the start how Bukele works to keep promises,” said Domingo Pineda, 29, a merchant in Santa Tecla, a community outside the capital, San Salvador. “This is a government that works for the people, by the people.”

Oscar Lopez reported from Mexico City. Natalie Kitroeff reported from Mexico City and Nelson Rentería Meza from Santa Tecla, El Salvador.

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