Can Bukele be re-elected president of El Salvador?

(CNN Spanish) — El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele is challenging his country’s constitution by seeking a second term. This Sunday, the Nuevas Ideas party held the primaries with him as the only candidate. Some observers have called it unconstitutional, but the president’s team rejects any illegitimacy in this process.

The New Ideas party has opened voting for a candidate for next year when a general election is held. In the case of the presidency and vice-presidency, Bukele participated as the only candidate together with Félix Ulloa.

The process started in September 2021 and is taking shape step by step.

The controversy over the possible re-election of Bukele: what the ruling party says and what the constitutionalists say

There is controversy in El Salvador over this decision that the president and his party have taken to nominate him, given that some constitutionalists claim that at least five articles of the constitution prohibit immediate re-election. However, the ruling party believes there is a possibility that a second term could be aspired to — and according to the official analysis — the president and vice president are expected to resign on the last day of November: leave office for six months in order to aspire to a new mandate.

In this case, the Legislative Assembly would have to appoint the first and second presidential designates to assume the Presidency and Vice Presidency of El Salvador.

There are several constitutionalists in El Salvador who claim that this would not be possible, but the government claims that there is even a ruling by the Constitutional Chamber, nominated by the current Assembly —with an official majority—, which established that it was possible to aspire to a second period.

For Eduardo Escobar, executive director of Acción Ciudadana, a non-profit association specializing in social control, Bukele’s candidacy “is undoubtedly unconstitutional”.

“In El Salvador, immediate re-election is prohibited by the Constitution,” Escobar explained to CNN. “[La Constitución] It has several provisions that clearly state that anyone who held the presidency in the period prior to the new term cannot hold the presidency.”

“He could run later, for the period 2029-2034, for example. But for this next one, which starts in 2024, the president is prohibited from running,” says Escobar.

So, how to interpret the sentence of the Constitutional Chamber, issued in September 2021, which started all this?

The change of the Constitutional Chamber of 2021

In 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, with an official majority, dismissed the principal and alternate magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Attorney General, Raúl Melara. Furthermore, on their first day of work, the deputies elected and sworn in the new judges, criticized by the international community for the lack of counterweights of a democracy and the failure to respect the separation of powers.

Can President Bukele seek re-election? 4:01

For Escobar “that ‘Constitutional Chamber’, in quotation marks, is a group of lawyers who have been imposed by the president accompanying the decision of the Legislative Assembly: they are not legitimately appointed, they are not legitimately elected magistrates, but, as I said, It is a tribunal, alleged tribunal, which the president himself made to measure”.

The director of Acción Ciudadana assures that the resolutions of that chamber “lack legal legitimacy” and that the legitimate judges were those dismissed in 2021.

Escobar assures that El Salvador is in the final stages “that lead a country to have a dictatorship”.

“We saw it in Nicaragua, we saw it in Venezuela precisely when the rulers legitimately come to power, conquer the people, use populism to ingratiate themselves with the people, then remove the officials, place those they like and those who like them in important positions such as the prosecutor, the Constitutional Chamber, etc. El Salvador. They are already reformed for the 2024 elections, which favor the Nuevas Ideas party and support re-election”.

With information from Merlin Delcid and Jennifer Montoya

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