February 21, 2024

By MEGAN JANETSKY and MARCOS ALEMÁN (Related Press)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Salvadorans packed the capital’s central sq. Sunday night to have fun the anticipated reelection of Nayib Bukele as president even earlier than any official outcomes have been introduced.

With hovering approval scores and nearly no competitors, Nayib Bukele was nearly actually headed for a second 5-year time period as president. After voting, he jousted with reporters, asserting that the election’s outcomes would function a “referendum” on his administration.

Two hours after polling locations closed, and with none official returns introduced, Bukele stated on the platform X that “based on our numbers” he had received. Preliminary official outcomes weren’t anticipated earlier than late Sunday.

Many citizens expressed willingness Sunday to forego some components of democracy if it means protecting gang violence at bay.

El Salvador’s structure prohibits reelection. However a fter his social gathering was victorious in 2021 legislative elections, the newly elected congress purged the nation’s constitutional court docket, changing judges with loyalists. They later dominated that Bukele may run for a second time period. Critics say he has chipped away on the nation’s system of checks and balances.

On Sunday evening, Bukele’s face was plastered on a lot of downtown San Salvador’s principal sq., on flags, shirts and life-size billboard cutouts.

Delya Rodriguez joined a whole lot of individuals already celebrating in San Salvador’s principal plaza, carrying a T-shirt with Bukele’s face on it studying “Everybody for re-election.”

“I take into account myself a Bukele fan,” Rodríguez stated. “That is the primary time that I’m the fan of a celebration.”

The hen farmer stated she had by no means seen El Salvador’s conventional events do something for folks like her, and dismissed criticisms of the chief.

“He’s a traditionally singular and totally different president,” she stated.

Bukele’s administration has arrested greater than 76,000 folks since a gang crackdown started in March 2022. The huge arrests have been criticized for a scarcity of due course of, however Salvadorans have retaken their neighborhoods lengthy managed by gangs.

José Dionisio Serrano, 60, was proud to be the primary individual in line at 6 a.m. Sunday as voters began to attend exterior a faculty within the previously gang-controlled neighborhood of Zacamil in Mejicanos simply north of San Salvador. The soccer instructor stated he deliberate to vote for Bukele and his social gathering New Concepts.

“We have to hold altering, remodeling,” Serrano stated. “Truthfully, we now have lived by way of very exhausting intervals in my life. As a citizen I’ve lived by way of intervals of struggle, and this case we had with the gangs. Now we now have a giant alternative for our nation. I would like the generations which can be coming as much as reside in a greater world.”

Mejicanos was traditionally divided between two gangs most of Serrano’s life, and he needed to flee for a number of years after gang members shot him and threatened his life. Requested about issues that Bukele was in search of reelection regardless of a constitutional ban, he brushed it apart, saying, “What the folks need is one thing else.”

El Salvador’s conventional events from the left and proper that created the vacuum that Bukele first stuffed in 2019 stay in shambles. Alternating in energy for some three many years, the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and leftist Farabundo Martí Nationwide Liberation Entrance (FMLN) have been totally discredited by their very own corruption and ineffectiveness. Their presidential candidates this yr have been polling within the low single digits.

Bukele, the self-described “world’s coolest dictator,” has gained fame for his brutal crackdown on gangs, wherein greater than 1% of the nation’s inhabitants has been arrested.

On Sunday afternoon, Bukele waded by way of a crowd of supporters to vote carrying a blue golf shirt and white baseball cap.

Smiling, Bukele and his spouse dropped their ballots into the field as R.E.M.’s 1987 hit “It’s the Finish of the World as We Know It (And I Really feel High quality),” blared over audio system. Bukele has a behavior of trolling his critics.

Shortly after casting his vote, Bukele stated at a information convention that it was necessary to elect a Legislative Meeting that can proceed approving the state of emergency that has given him extraordinary powers to fight the gangs.

Bukele stated the vote might be seen as a “referendum” on what his administration had accomplished.

“We’re not substituting democracy as a result of El Salvador by no means had democracy,” he stated. “That is the primary time in historical past that El Salvador has democracy. And I’m not saying it, the folks say it.”

Requested about innocents swept up within the gang crackdown, he stated El Salvador had one of many world’s highest incarceration charges now as a result of it’s shifting from being the world’s homicide capital to being one in every of its most secure international locations. He dismissed overseas criticism as selling failed “recipes” and ignoring his administration’s homegrown resolution.

Whereas his administration is accused of committing widespread human rights abuses, violence has additionally plummeted in a rustic recognized only a few years in the past as one of the vital harmful on the planet.

Although critics like Reinaldo Duarte, a casual employee who sells books on the street, stated he would vote for FMLN, not as a result of they might win, however to vote towards Bukele.

He stated the stalled economic system has disproportionately affected casual staff, and expressed concern that Bukele’s authorities will not be clear in its administration of public funds and its struggle on the gangs, saying “there are a variety of free gang leaders.”

Within the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, Bukele made no public marketing campaign appearances. As an alternative, the populist plastered his social media and tv screens throughout the nation with a easy message recorded from his sofa: If he and his New Concepts social gathering didn’t win elections this yr, the “struggle with the gangs could be put in danger.”

The 42-year-old Bukele and his social gathering are more and more appeared to as a case research for a wider world rise in authoritarianism.

“There’s this rising rejection of the essential ideas of democracy and human rights, and assist for authoritarian populism amongst individuals who really feel that, ideas like democracy and human rights and due course of have failed them,” stated Tyler Mattiace, Americas researcher for Human Rights Watch.

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Alemán reported from Santa Tecla, El Salvador.