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PoliticsEl Salvador

El Salvador: Bukele confirmed as president after final count

February 10, 2024

Nayib Bukele's controversial decision to jail 77,000 criminal gang members is widely credited with helping him secure a second term. The election result was delayed for days after a recount was demanded.

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele greets supporters next to his wife Gabriela Rodriguez after the presidential and legislative elections in San Salvador on February 4, 2024
El Salvador's president Nayib Bukele won 1 million more votes than in the 2019 electionImage: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images

El Salvador's Nayib Bukele was formally reelected as president on Saturday after the Central American country's election body completed a final tally of the poll results.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal had demanded a recount due to technical issues during last Sunday's vote.

On Saturday, the Tribunal announced that Bukele had won 82.66% of support — receiving some 2.7 million votes out of the 3.2 million cast.

His support rose by more than a million votes compared to the last election in 2019.

Manuel Flores of the far-left Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) came a distant second with 6.25%, while Joel Sanchez, of the right-wing Arena party, obtained 5.44%.

Following the announcement, the self-billed "coolest dictator in the world," thanked "the Salvadoran people" for their support in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Tough crime policy helped win reelection

Bukele's tough policy against gangs is widely credited for his second-term victory. 

El Salvador was once considered one of the world's most violent countries, which was blamed on the large number of criminal gangs operating in the country.

Almost two years ago, using emergency powers, Bukele ordered police to arrest — without warrants — more than 77,000 suspects and even created a mega-prison to house many of them.

The arrival of inmates to the new mega prison in Tecoluca, 74 kilometers southeast of San Salvador, on February 25, 2023
After his crackdown on gangs, Bukele ordered the building of a mega-jail to house 40,000 prisonersImage: Press Secretary of The Presidency of El Salvador/Anadolu Agency/picture alliance

The number of people now incarcerated amounts to more than 1% of El Salvador's population.

The controversial move was sparked by the murder of more than 80 people over 3 days as gang culture dominated the country.

Last year, the country's murder rate declined to its lowest level in three decades — far below the global average.

Many innocent people caught up in purge

But rights advocates have questioned the harsh policy as about 7,000 people have been released after being denied due process and later proven innocent.  

They say children have been left without parents and families can wait several months without any news of their imprisoned loved ones. 

Rights groups have also warned of a further drift from democracy amid concerns of further curbs on civil rights.

But Bukele's approach has broad support among Salvadorans who have been able to retake their neighborhoods.

Bukele's reelection is also controversial as the country's constitution doesn't allow more than one term in office.

Freedom of Speech Award: DW honors El Salvador journalist

However, the president used his party's congressional majority to pack courts with loyalists and overhaul state institutions, paving the way for him to run again.

Bukele's popularity is another example of how some Central American countries have struggled to launch sustainable democratic models in the aftermath of civil conflicts between left-wing guerrillas and US-backed right-wing authoritarian regimes.

El Salvador was mired in a brutal civil war between 1979 and 1992, which killed more than 75,000 people, while approximately 8,000 others disappeared.

mm/wd (AFP, EFE)