By Hugo Sanchez
San Salvador, May 31 (EFE).- Three years into Nayib Bukele’s term as president of El Salvador, despite being strenuously questioned by national and international actors for some of his decisions, public opinion polls show that he is still enjoying a honeymoon with the public, as evidenced by his high approval ratings.
Over the past week, two surveys have once again demonstrated his popularity with Salvadorans and Bukele seems not to have suffered the traditional political dropoff in support a ways into the mandate, with the public heavily backing his latest plan: waging “war” against violent gangs.
It is still unknown whether the president, who for months has not responded to reporters’ questions and on June 1 will complete three years in the presidency, will decide to run for reelection, a door that the magistrates on the country’s Supreme Court – named by his allies in the Legislative Assembly – opened for him.
According to the latest poll by the Francisco Gavidia University’s Citizens Studies Center (CEC), the public overwhelmingly approves of Bukele’s governance at the close of his third year in power with an approval rating of 8.34 on a 10-point scale.
Far from falling off in terms of popular approval, the president has recovered from a slight decline at the end of 2021, when he received a score of 7.84, his only rating under 8 shown by the CEC survey since January 2020.
According to the CEC, the public hails and supports Bukele’s administrative approach, saying that “his actions are having an impact at the base of the socioeconomic pyramid (50 pct. to 60 pct. of the population).”
Behind this high approval rating, according to the CEC analysis of its own survey, is the $300 payment delivered to citizens during the pandemic lockdown and the $30 provided to each member of the public in a Bitcoin wallet, for use as a legal tender, among other measures pushed by Bukele.
“In this government, all the traditional bureaucratic tools, the transparency controls and the political debates about counterweights have disappeared due to the complete control enjoyed by the (Bukele) administration,” the CEC emphasized.
The entity said that the public support leads to the conclusion that, at present, Bukele “is politically indestructible” and that the revelation of alleged corrupt acts within his government is not tarnishing his image.
Bukele’s two strongest advantages in this third year in office, during which time he has governed without significant opposition in Congress and without a counterbalancing force on the Supreme Court, have been the adoption of Bitcoin as a legal tender and the so-called “war” on the gangs.
The adoption of the cryptocurrency in September 2021 is considered the first measure with only lukewarm public support on which Bukele has not backpedaled and he has put it at the center of his economic plan despite the marked decline in the value of Bitcoin in recent weeks amid a worldwide economic stock market correction.
One CEC survey, conducted before the promulgation of the Bitcoin Law, found that 52.1 percent of the public trusted Bukele but were not in agreement with introducing Bitcoin into the economic mix, while 30 percent expressed their lack of confidence in him and in the cryptocurrency.
In January 2022, a study by the Central American University’s University Institute of Public Opinion (Iudop), found that 34.8 percent of the public expressed no confidence in Bitcoin while 35.3 percent said they had “a little” confidence in it.
An opposite finding emerged over the war on the gangs launched by the Bukele administration, a move similar to the massive gangmember detention strategies implemented by earlier governments.
The so-called war is being conducted amid an “exceptional regime” approved for 30 days in late March and which since then has been extended by parliament twice for equal periods.
The state of emergency was requested by Bukele after a surge in murders attributed to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang and which an investigation by the online newspaper El Faro found began after the rupture of a pact between the government and that particular gang.
Bukele and his security officials have not responded publicly to the accusation.
The wave of violence, which took the lives of 87 people over three days, put Bukele’s security plan on the ropes, given that he had attributed the prior reduction in murders to it, and it showed the muscle that the gangs could still bring to bear.
But it seems that the measures adopted by Bukele, who had been a marketing expert prior to becoming president, strengthened his popularity.