El Salvador’s New President Represents A Change In The Country’s Political System
After three decades of control by two political parties, the people of El Salvador have voted in a new politician to lead the country. Nayib Bukele, 37, won nearly 54 percent of the votes to become president of a country that has faced political corruption and rampant street violence. Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, ran on a platform to stop corruption and create job opportunities. Yet, it was his campaign as an alternative to the country’s two main political parties: the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), that made him standout.
Bukele is the first president of El Salvador since 1992 who doesn’t belong to either countries main parties.
Here's what you need to know about El Salvador's president-elect, Nayib Bukele pic.twitter.com/TwIOvXgcmn
— TRT World (@trtworld) February 4, 2019
Bukele is now leading the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), a small and new conservative political party in El Salvador. He outlasted Carlos Callejas of the ARENA party who got less than 32 percent of the national vote. Bukele started his political career with the FMLN party but was expelled in 2017 after repeatedly criticizing it. Just last year, he switched over to GANA, which is far-right compared to his start with the FMLN.
The country’s youngest-ever president-elect had an unconventional path to the office but it’s a reflection of what to expect when he takes office in June. Bukele ran his campaign almost entirely on social media and became quite popular due to his informal and relaxed image. He appeared in blue jeans and a leather jacket for his victory speech. He didn’t follow traditional campaign practices like having rallies around the country and even refused to participate in a traditional debate.
“Today we won in the first round and we made history,” Bukele told supporters at a celebratory rally. “We have turned the page on power.”
El Salvador has been plagued by poverty, scandals and rampant violence linked to gangs.
VIDEO: 🇸🇻 Polls have opened in El Salvador's presidential elections under heavy security as voters look for change in a country beset by gang violence and widespread poverty pic.twitter.com/VecnAMPxfB
— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 3, 2019
All presidential candidates ran on similar platforms that spoke of job growth and increasing safety measures across El Salvador. Yet, it was Bukele who set himself apart when it came to talking about the issue of widespread corruption in both opposing parties. Corruption has become a widespread issue across political systems in Latin America and even more prevalent in El Salvador.
Former President Tony Saca, representing ARENA, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty last year to charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Mauricio Funes, representing FMLN, fled to Nicaragua in 2016 after he was accused of embezzling $351 million. This past history made both parties easy targets for Bukele who often used campaign slogans like “There is enough money when nobody steals it.”
After El Salvador’s civil war ended in the 1990s, the country has faced economic hardships among other rampant issues that have caused many families to leave. It’s also a major reason that some Salvadorans have headed north to try and come to the United States looking for safety and jobs.
One of Bukele’s promises is to create a commission to investigate official corruption.
VIDEO: Salvadorans react the day after Nayib Bukele, a former San Salvador mayor, was elected president of El Salvador — crushing a two-party system in place since civil war ended in 1992 pic.twitter.com/MIQiAUfWeZ
— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 5, 2019
Being an outsider from the traditional two party system worked in his favor during his campaign but now comes the harsh reality for the president. GANA currently has only 10 seats in the legislature, well short of the 43 votes needed to pass laws. This could make his proposed investigation difficult.
One of his campaign promises is to adopt a similar version of the international anti-corruption commission that neighboring Guatemala implemented. Bukele will have to form an alliance with the right-wing parties, which currently dominate Congress with 49 house seats.
What does the election mean for El Salvador moving forward?
El Salvador's new president has ambitious campaign promises to keep. https://t.co/MLzciLNrpp
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) February 5, 2019
Similar to other recent Latin American countries elections, Bukele represents a new voice for a country that was tangled in a two-party system that it’s citizens couldn’t trust anymore. Two-party systems have fallen apart in countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Honduras in the last two decades.
As populist leaders continue to get elected, Bukele’s victory is a reflection of the continuing decline of the traditional two-party system. His message of anti-corruptness and stopping violence made him a popular choice. The real challenge will be putting these promises in action especially in a country where change is desperately needed.
“I feel like my heart could break open with happiness. He gives us a new hope for El Salvador,” Nancy Fajardo, who works in a call center told VICE News. “He has new ideas. And we need someone young who represents us and knows what we need.”