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Voting for fear of revenge

“Bukele, Bukele, Bukele!” is heard in one voice under the balcony of the National Palace where Nayib delivers a victory speech. It is the first time, after eight decades, since General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez extended his mandate for 13 years. Along with his wife, Gabriela de Bukele, Nayib repeats over and over again that the Salvadoran people will allow him to continue winning the war against the gangs thanks to the votes cast in the “democratic” elections held on February 4.

Nayib Bukele has proclaimed himself the winner. Up to that moment, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) had only counted 22% of the ballots. Still, the candidate for New Ideas (N) had already won the Executive Branch and 58 seats out of 60 in the Legislative Assembly, thus obtaining the majority of the councils.

Democracy: a whimsical word that according to the Greeks means “the power of the people” and according to Nayib as well. The candidate affirmed in his speech that in “the history of the world, since the existence of democracy, never a project had won with the number of votes that N has done in full freedom and democracy”. As of February 5, the TSE had not finished counting the votes, but the victory is still intact and on social networks, the reelected candidate has already received multiple congratulations through X (formerly Twitter).  

However, democracy at this point in El Salvador can no longer be understood with its original meaning. That is to say, as a system through which some counterweights allow opinions different from those of the government in power and now reelected. This time, with an absolute majority in the Legislative Assembly, the separation of powers has been definitively eliminated. But the population is not aware of this. The pre-electoral survey of the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública (IUDOP) showed that 68% of the population does not agree with a president concentrating all the state’s institutions, but 70% agreed with presidential reelection.

The road to reelection has been gradually traced, from the imposition of new magistrates to a series of electoral reforms such as the reduction from 84 to 60 parliamentarians and the reduction of municipalities from 244 to 44, which had only one purpose: to erase the opposition from the citizens’ collective. Thus, little by little the presence of the opposition parties has been blurred, a task that has not been very difficult for the ruling party and, in these elections, it has been demonstrated that the opposition in El Salvador has not unified and is on the verge of extinction.

An irregular election

It has been a long and irregular election day. 24 hours later, El Salvador is still without official data on the winners of these elections. At the time when Nayib was proclaimed the winner with 85%, the figures did not match with the scrutinies carried out up to that moment by the TSE. Before 7 p.m., Nayib had posted on X: “According to our numbers, we have won the presidential election with more than 85% of the votes and a minimum of 58 out of 60 Assembly representatives”.

However, on election day, there were other irregularities. In the middle of the day, the presidential candidate for N interrupted the obligatory silence and, with the use of state resources, offered a conference dedicated to attacking the national and international media, as well as repeating once again that the vote of Salvadorans was necessary in order not to lose a single seat in the Legislative Assembly. If so, according to the president, the opposition would free the gang members and there could be a sort of revenge. This was the discourse agreed together with the representatives of the same party who gave interviews in the different media.

But this campaign of fear did not remain only in speeches. Even though the Electoral Code prevents propaganda three days before the elections, in every news block, on national television, and in live transmission, advertising of the Government of El Salvador appeared repeatedly with a voice-over saying, “El Salvador is ours”. The ad invited the population to vote so as not to return to the past, “a past no one wants to go back to” where people were locked in their homes and not the gang members. The only way to keep the gang members in jail was through presidential reelection and a legislative majority.

People are afraid. This is how Nayib and his deputies repeatedly raised the regime of exception and citizen security throughout this election day, with short phrases in a speech that sought to feed the sensitivity of the population and permeate the popular unconscious. The allegation of opposition to the human rights of the good people against those of the gang members has served as an incentive to the population to go to vote, not only to comply with their civic duty, but also for fear of gang revenge.

This has been a day of firsts. It was the first time that the faces of the presidential candidates appeared on the ballots, and it was also the first time in the recent history of the country that there was a lack of information regarding the vote count. At 10:22 p.m. on February 4, the web page of the only institution that could guarantee a transparent and democratic electoral process stopped updating its information: the system failed.

But, in these elections, this has not been the only failure. The opposition failed due to a lack of funds from the political debt and the TSE failed when it accepted a candidacy against the constitution. In the final scrutiny, the TSE decided late on February 5 that, for counting votes for the election of deputies, they will open all the electoral packages to count ballot by ballot.

At the end of the day, in the Gerardo Barrios square in El Salvador, Nayib ended his speech boasting of having ended the gangs in his previous mandate and assuring the Salvadoran people that the gang members will not go free: “Thanks to God, El Salvador went from being the most insecure country to the safest in the western continent”, but “these next five years, wait and see what we are going to do”. The speech ends with a kiss to his wife and the fireworks begin to the rhythm of “It’s The End of the Word as We Know It” by the band R.E.M.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Otros artículos del autor

Cientista política y Doctoranda en Estudios Latinoamericanos por la Universidad de Salamanca, España.


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