This Sunday, the majority of voting centers in El Salvador, utilized for the presidential, legislative, and municipal elections, closed their doors at 5pm local time (8pm Brasília time). This marked the commencement of the vote counting process in an election where the incumbent President, Nayib Bukele, is vying for re-election. Polling data indicates that he is likely to receive between 65 and 80% of the total votes.
The 1,595 voting centers, predominantly located within educational facilities, have ceased operations at the appointed time. However, it has been observed that in certain locations, citizens continue to turn up to cast their votes. Approximately 6.2 million Salvadorans, inclusive of 740 thousand living abroad, were summoned to partake in these elections. The Election Day transpired without any major incidents, although there were nine arrests made for offenses including ballot paper tampering, making political declarations at voting centers, and public intoxication.
Carlos Saade, the president of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, has voiced concerns about irregularities in the electoral process. He urged the judges of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) to stay vigilant during the vote counting procedure. Meanwhile, Isabel de Saint Malo, the head of the electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS), stated, “We observe everything without problems, but if there are specific issues, we invite you to report them”. She emphasized the significant involvement of Salvadoran residents living abroad in the voting process.
President Nayib Bukele, aged 42, enjoys the distinction of being the first democratic-era president of El Salvador to seek re-election. If successful, he will also be the first to serve in the role twice. His path to re-election was cleared in 2021, when the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, appointed by a Congress with a government majority in a non-standard legal procedure, altered the interpretation guidelines for the Constitution.
According to polling data, Bukele’s popularity rides largely on the strides he’s made in improving security. He has not only sustained but also enhanced the reduction in homicide rates that started in 2016. As per official reports, he has wrested control of popular neighborhoods from gangs. Until 2015, El Salvador was recognized as one of the world’s most violent countries with a staggering 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. However, this figure dropped to 2.4 in 2023, thus making El Salvador the safest country in Latin America, as per government claims.
An emergency regime, sanctioned by the ruling party in Congress at Bukele’s behest, has led to over 76,000 arrests and more than 6,000 reported incidents of human rights violations. These include approximately 220 deaths in custody, short-term disappearances, and instances of torture.