(San Salvador) The President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele claimed to have been elected on Sunday for a second term “with more than 85% of the votes” in the first round of the presidential election, acclaimed for his ruthless fight against the gangs which terrorized the population.
The young 42-year-old president, in power since 2019, added that his Nuevas ideas party “wins at least 58 of the 60” seats in the Assembly, which constitutes according to him “a record in the entire democratic history of the whole world “.
The CID-Gallup institute, whose exit poll earlier gave Mr. Bukele the winner with 87% of the vote, also stressed that it had “never observed a gap of this magnitude during an election”.
Fireworks fired into the sky over San Salvador accompanied the victory message from the president, who met his supporters in front of the National Palace, in the historic center of the capital.
“We are more than happy with this victory, we will have Bukele for another five years,” Lorena Escobar, a 38-year-old nurse who came to wait for him with her family, told AFP with a smile.
Mr. Bukele had previously congratulated himself on having defeated the “cancer” of criminal gangs and showed his intention to maintain the “state of emergency”, in force since March 2022, after having voted, all smiles, white cap on his head, jeans and blue polo shirt, next to his wife.
This exceptional regime, allowing arrests without warrant and deployment of the army in the streets, sent some 75,000 people behind bars. Around 7,000 of them, unjustly detained, were released.
Murders attributable to maras, local gangs, fell from more than 800 in 2019 to 57 last year, according to the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled).
“El Salvador suffered from metastases, but we performed surgery, at the moment we are in the treatment phase, but we will come out of this in good health, without the cancer of the gangs (…) We still have to recover and recover,” Mr. Bukele said during a press conference lasting almost an hour.
He was notably questioned about the criticisms made by his detractors, who denounce an authoritarian drift by a head of state who now concentrates all powers, and a danger for democracy. After replacing Supreme Court justices and the attorney general, he was able to circumvent the Constitution, which prohibits consecutive terms, by taking a six-month leave of absence before the vote.
“We are not replacing democracy, because El Salvador has never had a democracy. For the first time in history, El Salvador has a democracy, and it’s not me who says it, it’s the people,” he declared, affirming: “we’re going to know if the people support emergency state “.
“Stop all the murderers”
Nayib Bukele, former mayor of San Salvador (2015-2018), entered politics in 2012, readily calls himself a “cool dictator” to mock the security drift of which he is accused. The construction of a high-security mega-prison with strict detention conditions is accompanied by allegations of widespread human rights violations.
“Why do we have the highest incarceration rate in the world? Because we have transformed the murder capital of the world, the most dangerous country in the world, into the safest country” in the Americas, Mr. Bukele said. “And the only way to do that is to arrest all the murderers.”
Government statistics speak for him. The homicide rate was reduced to 2.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023, compared to 87 per 100,000 in 2019.
Although “favorable” to the emergency regime, Mario Delgado, a 68-year-old bank retiree, believes, after voting in the La Campanera district, former stronghold of Barrio 18, northeast of San Salvador, that the exceptional measure “violates the rights of those of us who are not thieves”. He also wants “fairness, debates, consensus” in the Assembly.
Certainly, “security has improved. I hope that this will continue and also that the economic situation will improve,” notes Santos de Martinez, a 66-year-old housewife, leaving the same polling station.
Many Salvadorans continue to emigrate to the United States in search of work, fleeing poverty that affects 29% of the population.
Some 6,214,399 registered voters, including 741,094 abroad, mainly in the United States, were called to vote.