By Hugo Sanchez
San Salvador, Sep 16 (EFE).- Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s announcement that he will seek re-election in 2024 was met Friday with expressions of approval from supporters of the right-wing incumbent and claims by critics that his planned candidacy is illegal.
Until a year ago, a sitting president was required to spend 10 years out of office before running for a second five-year mandate.
But Supreme Court judges installed by ruling party lawmakers via a procedure of dubious legitimacy ruled in September 2021 that Bukele can stand for a second consecutive term.
Celia Medrano, a veteran human rights campaigner nominated to serve as executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said that immediate presidential re-election would violate El Salvador’s constitution.
“It’s not a surprise. Violating constitutional limits has been the daily practice,” she told Efe, citing steps that “prepared the path to re-election,” such as Bukele’s decision to enter the Legislative Assembly on Feb. 9, 2020, with a retinue of heavily armed soldiers and police as lawmakers debated his proposal to increase spending on the security forces.
Given Bukele’s “total control of the entire state,” Medrano said, “a discussion of whether the constitutionality of re-election is supported by the population is useless.”
She stressed that the relevant article of the constitution states that a president may not remain in office “ever one more day” after completing the five-year term.
In the view of Jonatan Sisco, an attorney with the Episcopalian human rights organization Cristosal, the court ruling permitting a president to serve consecutive terms “has no judicial value” because the judges behind the decision were appointed in a process lacking “democratic legitimacy.”
“The constitution is so clear in the prohibition of immediate re-election that the mere act of promoting re-election is penalized with the loss of civic rights,” Sisco told Efe.
The Central American Institute of Fiscal Affairs’ Ricardo Castaneda said that Bukele’s gambit “generates great uncertainty.”
“Investors will ask themselves: what guarantees do I have to go invest in a county if at a given moment, they can also change the rules of the game for me if the president himself is doing so,” the Salvadoran economist said in a telephone interview with Efe.
Castaneda noted that Bukele’s re-election announcement Thursday night came just hours after Fitch Ratings downgraded El Salvador’s Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to CC from CCC.
“El Salvador’s tight fiscal and external liquidity positions and extremely constrained market access amid high fiscal financing needs and a large USD800 million external bond maturity in January 2023 make default of some sort probable,” Fitch said.
Applauding Bukele’s decision to run for a second term, Vice President Felix Ulloa said Friday in a television interview that the objections to the president’s plans “have no constitutional foundation.”
Shortly after becoming head of state in 2019, Bukele described as “dictators” the presidents of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez; and Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega.
Both of those leaders were then serving consecutive terms made possible by controversial court decisions.
Polls indicate that Bukele remains overwhelmingly popular with Salvadorans, though Thursday – the country’s independence day – saw the fifth march in just over a year to denounce the president’s policies.
El Salvador is in the sixth month of a state of emergency enacted with the stated aim of battling gangs. Some 52,500 people have been arrested, many of them without the kind of legal justification that would be required under normal circumstances. EFE hs-sa/dr