(San Salvador) President Nayib Bukele voted mid-afternoon Sunday in El Salvador, where polls are open until 5 p.m. (6 p.m. Eastern), and is now awaiting confirmation of his popularity from a re-election to 1er turn and a large majority in parliament.
Smiling, white cap on his head, jeans and blue polo shirt, Nayib Bukele voted in San Salvador alongside his wife, without making a statement to the press.
His “war against gangs” and newfound security in a country then considered among the most dangerous in the world gave him the halo of unparalleled popularity, with 90% favorable opinions according to Latinbarometro. The opposition is in tatters. None of its five candidates reached 5% in the latest polls.
Some 75,000 people have been placed behind bars (around 7,000 unjustly detained have been released) under a state of emergency in force since March 2022, allowing warrantless arrests and deployment of the army on the streets.
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).
But in the La Campanera district, former stronghold of Barrio 18 in the northeast of San Salvador, the feeling of insecurity persists. “When they (the soldiers) are there, we are free (…) but when they are not there, everything changes,” a voter who did not want to give her name told AFP, referring to the soldiers deployed 24 hours a day. in the area and who were the first to vote in this office.
“The fear” of the gang “is still present” because “there still live here sons, brothers, cousins who have this mentality,” she lists, observing the people around.
In this neighborhood with a single central street lined with blocks of small bare brick houses where extortion from traders reigned, Sandra Burgos, 68, resolved to believe in newfound security and opened a small bookstore. “Before, it was terrible, we couldn’t leave” the neighborhood, because we had to cross that of the rival gang, MS-13.
Lucia Alvayero, 46, who sells corn pancakes next door, smiles, certain that “Bukele will win”, and that she will be able to continue to provide a decent living for her family.
Nayib Bukele, for his part, repeats government statistics on the homicide rate, reduced to 2.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023, compared to 87 per 100,000 in 2019, then one of the highest in the world outside periods of conflict. He prides himself on having made El Salvador the “safest country in the world”.
Sure of his popularity, he did not call for a vote for him but for the deputies of his Nuevas Ideas party in the Assembly, to confirm the majority he has after the reduction in the number of parliamentarians from 84 to 60.
“With a new five-year mandate, he will have time to consolidate a hegemonic party dynamic,” comments political scientist Alvaro Artiga, of the Central American University (UCA).
In front of the polling stations in El Salvador where 5,473,305 voters are registered, lines stretch on the sidewalks, but no estimate of participation will be disclosed by the electoral authority. Waiting times were even longer abroad, notably in Spain and the United States, where 741,094 of the nearly 3 million expatriate Salvadorans voted.
Nayib Bukele, former mayor of San Salvador (2015-2018), entered politics in 2012, readily calls himself a “cool dictator” to deride his detractors who accuse him of having assumed all the powers. He replaced El Salvador’s Supreme Court justices and attorney general, thereby managing to circumvent the Constitution, which allows only one presidential term, by being granted a six-month leave of absence before the vote.
The 22-month state of emergency and the construction of a high-security mega-prison with very strict detention conditions are accompanied by allegations of widespread human rights violations.
Although “favorable” to the emergency regime, Mario Delgado, a 68-year-old bank retiree, believes, sitting on a bench in La Campanera, that the measure “violates the rights of those of us who are not thieves “. While he salutes the youth of the 42-year-old president, he hopes for “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, as she leaves the adjacent polling station.
Many Salvadorans continue to emigrate to the United States in search of work, fleeing poverty that affects 29% of the population.