Nayib Bukele, the President of El Salvador, has officially entered his candidacy for a second consecutive term in the February 2024 elections, despite it being in direct violation of the country’s constitution, which explicitly prohibits the re-election of a sitting president.
Nonetheless, the current president made a dramatic appearance before the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, flanked by his vice president, Félix Ulloa, and a procession of fervent supporters. This defiant act took place just hours prior to the deadline for candidate registration for the upcoming presidential elections.
This scene, with the president surrounded by supporters and accompanied by the presidential guard, poses a direct challenge to the rule of law in El Salvador. Bukele, who has garnered significant popularity in a nation long beleaguered by uncontrolled violence, particularly by championing security measures, is openly defying the constitutional norms of the small Central American nation.
Bukele: Opportunist or Statesman?
Nayib Bukele assumed the presidency in 2019, succeeding the former guerrilla fighter Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Four years ago, he secured a landslide victory with 53% of the vote, toppling the traditional Salvadoran political parties, the conservative ARENA and the leftist FMLN, of which the current president was a former member.
Bukele’s leadership style has been marked by stringent measures against the criminal gangs that have plagued the country for decades. His approach includes the construction of large-scale prisons and arbitrary detentions, often conducted without formal charges or accusations, actions that have raised concerns among international human rights organizations.
Nonetheless, President Bukele has cultivated a distinctive style that has earned him a considerable following in various Latin American countries, capitalizing on the prevailing atmosphere of violence and insecurity that afflicts many of these nations.
“The Salvadoran people will decide whether they want to continue building the new El Salvador or if they want to return to the past… with the help of God, we are going to bury that opposition, and for that, we need to sweep the ballot boxes,” affirmed the president, who is aspiring to secure re-election.
However, Article 152 of the Constitution explicitly states that “no one who has held the office of President or Vice President of the Republic for more than six months, whether consecutively or not, during the immediate term or within the last six months before the start of the presidential term, may run for the position of president or vice president.”
Legal Options for Bukele
President Bukele had announced his intention to seek re-election in September 2022, making him the first Salvadoran president to aspire to re-election since the promulgation of the 1983 Constitution.
A legal maneuver being considered by supporters of the ruling party is for Bukele to resign from his position on December 1. According to their interpretation, this would enable him to run in the February 2024 elections without holding the office of president, a situation that is explicitly prohibited by the Salvadoran Constitution.
However, the Constitution, as outlined in Article 156, stipulates that “the positions of President and Vice President, as well as Designated positions, may only be resigned for a serious cause duly verified by the Legislative Assembly.”
Despite his overwhelming popularity for his tough stance on gangs, Bukele has faced criticism for the concentration of power and the legality of his candidacy. Presently, the president exercises control over all three branches of the Salvadoran government.
While nothing is certain, constitutional law experts concur on the manifest illegality of Bukele’s candidacy. Nevertheless, the populist leader remains confident that his strong popular support will bolster his chances of contesting the elections scheduled for February 4, 2024.