Salvadorans are voting in an election Sunday that is widely expected to hand Nayib Bukele, the self-described “world’s coolest dictator,” a second term as president.
El Salvador’s constitution prohibits reelection, but his supporters have largely shrugged off such concerns. Nor has his popularity been hindered by allegations of chipping away at El Salvador’s system of checks and balances while tackling gang violence.
Bukele’s administration has arrested more than 76,000 people in a nearly two-year crackdown on gangs. Though crime has plummeted, and Salvadorans have retaken their neighborhoods, the massive arrests have been criticized for a lack of due process.
El Salvador’s traditional parties from the left and right that created the vacuum Bukele first filled in 2019 remain in shambles. Presidential candidates for the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) are polling in the low single digits.
Bukele has gained fame for his brutal crackdown on gangs, in which more than 1% of the country’s population has been arrested.
While his administration is accused of committing widespread human rights abuses, violence has also plummeted, in a country known just a few years ago as one of the most dangerous in the world.
Because of this, many voters have largely overlooked concerns that Bukele has taken undemocratic steps to concentrate power. Since Bukele began his crackdown, that fear has dissipated.
Bukele made no public campaign appearances in the run-up to Sunday’s vote. Instead, he drove home the message – via social media and television ads – that the crackdown on gangs would be in jeopardy if his New Ideas party didn’t win.
“The opposition will be able to achieve its true and only plan, to free the gang members and use them to return to power,” he said.