Experts say President Nayib Bukele’s move would violate at least four articles of El Salvador’s constitution.
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has announced that he will seek a second five-year term, despite the country’s constitution prohibiting presidents from serving consecutive terms.
“I announce to the Salvadoran people that I have decided to run as the Republic’s presidential candidate,” Bukele said late Thursday in an Independence Day speech broadcast live on public television and social media. Bukele’s term is scheduled to end in 2024.
“The developed countries have re-election,” he said. “And now, thanks to the new configuration of our country’s democratic institution, so will El Salvador.”
The announcement came a year after new justices on the country’s Supreme Court — appointed by lawmakers aligned with Bukele — ruled that presidents can seek a second straight term despite the constitutional ban.
Constitutionalists have said allowing presidents for re-election would violate at least four articles of the constitution, including one that limits the presidential term to five years and says that the person who serves as president cannot serve a day longer in their functions will stay.
Last September’s Supreme Court ruling sparked widespread condemnation and fueled fears of a return to authoritarianism in El Salvador.
The US State Department also criticized the decision as one that “undermines democracy” and warned that a “decline in democratic governance” would damage the United States’ relationship with the Central American country.
Bukele has enjoyed high approval ratings since taking office in 2019. According to a poll conducted last month by CID Gallup, 85 percent of people support his presidency, while 95 percent are satisfied with his administration’s handling of security issues.
But the president is facing growing criticism from human rights groups and foreign governments for his concentration of power.
“This constitutional collapse was predictable,” wrote Juan Papier, Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in op tweet on Thursday.
“El Salvador has long been on the path to becoming a dictatorship and many did not want to speak out in time or help prevent it due to ideological bias, cowardice, geopolitical interests or obsession with immigration,” he said.
Bukele, who made bitcoin legal tender, has led a crackdown on gangs in recent months, using emergency powers that Congress extended for a sixth time on Wednesday.
Human rights groups say many innocent people have been arrested without cause, and they have documented a range of abuses, including deaths in custody and civil rights violations during the state of emergency.
In August, El Salvador’s police chief announced that more than 50,000 people had been arrested during the raid.
“Some in the international community … they criticize the capture of gang members as if they want us to be miserable again,” Bukele said Thursday. “This is the only way for El Salvador. We’ve already proven it; this is not a campaign promise.”
In a June report, HRW said that “gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions apparently based on people’s appearance and social class, and short-term enforced disappearances” had been committed.
The report also found that Bukele’s government had significantly weakened democratic institutions in El Salvador, allowing his government to operate with little control over its executive powers.