A deeper descent into authoritarianism, or the extension of a presidency that the majority residents imagine has improved the nation. Those had been the 2 major reactions in El Salvador when President Nayib Bukele stated final week that he plans to hunt re-election in 2024.
For human rights defenders, Bukele’s announcement raises the chance of slipping again in direction of a darkish interval within the nation’s historical past when 75,000 individuals had been killed throughout a 12-year civil conflict that resulted in 1992.
The peace accord to finish the violence established clear democratic norms to assist the nation keep away from one other bloody confrontation, equivalent to limiting the army’s political energy and requiring reforms to the judicial system.
However Bukele has slowly eroded these guidelines since coming to power in 2019, rights activist Celia Medrano instructed Al Jazeera, and violating the precept that bars re-election is simply the newest instance.
“El Salvador as a rustic should hit all-time low, as occurred to us 30 to 40 years in the past [during the civil war], so that folks start to grasp and react to what’s occurring,” stated Medrano.
For a lot of, the president’s plan to hunt re-election didn’t come as a shock. Congress is managed by Bukele’s Nuevas Concepts occasion. Legislators have eliminated the lawyer basic and constitutional court docket judges and changed them with loyalists. And the constitutional court docket ruled last year that Bukele can run for re-election — though authorized specialists dispute this.
The Salvadoran structure bans consecutive re-election, though it permits former presidents to run for workplace once more after two presidential phrases have handed.
“The constitutional court docket can’t problem rulings that brazenly go in opposition to the structure,” stated Leonor Arteaga, a Salvadoran lawyer and director of the Impunity and Grave Human Rights Violations programme on the Due Technique of Regulation Basis.
In style assist
But with Bukele’s recognition charges hovering — he ended his third 12 months in workplace this Might with an 87 percent approval score, in line with a survey by Salvadoran media outlet La Prensa Grafica — most residents are content material to let him bend the principles.
“If he submits himself to the [electoral] course of, like all the opposite candidates, it will likely be the individuals with their votes who determine,” 58-year-old Bukele voter Amadeo Lopez instructed Al Jazeera.
Bukele’s authorities additionally has defended his resolution to hunt re-election.
Vice President Felix Ulloa has stated it will not be unconstitutional. “One of many issues that has involved me my whole life has been to respect the rule of the democratic and constitutional state,” Ulloa stated, as reported by The Related Press information company.
Human rights teams disagree, however there are few choices out there to contest Bukele’s plan.
The Salvadoran structure permits for the appropriate to “riot” within the case of re-election, however Medrano stated this may be unlikely within the present political local weather.
“Breaking the principles of the sport [could unleash] a brand new wave of violence that takes us again to the eventualities of confrontation that the nation skilled earlier than,” she stated.
Specialists say Bukele is following a playbook utilized by different authoritarian leaders in Latin America who had been elected via democratic means however then eroded state establishments and adjusted the principles to permit themselves to stay in power.
In 2009, Venezuelans voted in a referendum to abolish time period limits for elected officers, paving the best way for Hugo Chavez to stay in energy till his dying.
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega lobbied for a change to the structure, accepted in 2014, to permit presidents to be re-elected indefinitely; he’s now serving his fourth consecutive term in workplace.
And former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, now awaiting trial on drug charges within the US, secured a second time period in a extremely contested 2017 election after a controversial ruling two years earlier paved the best way for his candidacy — regardless of a ban on re-election within the Honduran structure.
“Historical past has proven us that when a president desires to remain in energy utilizing non-legal means, equivalent to altering the structure and the rule of legislation, that solely means extra human rights violations, extra focus of energy in a single particular person, and that the inhabitants goes to be left with out rights,” stated Arteaga. “That shouldn’t be seen as regular.”
The president’s workplace didn’t instantly reply to Al Jazeera’s request for touch upon criticism of his plan to hunt re-election.
Whereas Bukele continues to take pleasure in common assist in El Salvador, Medrano stated cracks in his administration are beginning to present.
A legislation that made Bitcoin legal currency, which not too long ago marked its one-year anniversary, has been extensively unpopular amongst Salvadorans, whereas rising inflation and an financial downturn have affected the each day lives of many voters.
In a current survey (PDF) by the Institute for Public Opinion at San Salvador’s Central American College (IUDOP), 30 p.c of respondents stated the financial scenario worsened throughout Bukele’s third 12 months in workplace, in contrast with about 13 p.c the 12 months earlier than.
El Salvador additionally noticed considered one of its deadliest days in almost 20 years on the finish of March, prompting Bukele’s occasion to problem a state of exception that suspended sure civil liberties and has led to mass arrests and accusations of human rights abuses.
The measure stays in place greater than 5 months later. And whereas 90 p.c of Salvadorans stated the state of exception was serving to to enhance safety, in line with the IUDOP ballot, it has additionally drawn protests.
On September 15, the day Bukele introduced he would search re-election, opposition teams, together with conflict veterans, employee’s unions and relations of individuals arrested through the state of exception, marched via the capital to protest the federal government.
Towards that backdrop, Arteaga stated Bukele’s marketing campaign announcement aimed “to silence these voices and reinforce that he’s right here to remain and might be right here for a few years”.
Though she recognised the president’s robust mandate, Arteaga predicted “darkish years” forward to come back for the nation. “The management of the establishments and the attack on each voice that’s important goes to accentuate.”