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Bukele’s re-election raises new fears in Salvador | News about Civil Rights

The deepening of authoritarianism, or the extension of the presidency, that most citizens believe has improved the country. BILLIONWater cannons were the two main reactions in El Salvador when President Nayib Bukele last week said he plans to run for re-election in 2024.

Because human rights defenders, Bukele’s statement raises the risk of a return to a dark period in the country’s history when 75,000 people were killed in a 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.

The peace agreement to end the violence established clear democratic norms to help the country avoid a bloody confrontationsuch as limiting the political power of the military and demanding reform of the judicial system.

But Bukele has been slowly abolishing these rules since power in 2019rights activist Celia Medrano told Al Jazeera, and the violation of the principle of banning re-election is just the latest example.

El Salvador like a country will have to hit the bottom, as happened to us 30 to 40 years ago [during the civil war]so people start to understand and react to what’s happening,” says Medrano.

For many, the president’s re-election plan comes as no surprise. Parliament is controlled by Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party. Lawmakers removed the attorney general and constitutional court judges and replaced them with loyalists. And the constitutional court ruled last year that Bukele could run for re-election – although legal experts dispute this.

The Salvadoran The constitution prohibits consecutive re-elections, although it does allow former presidents to run for re-election after two presidential terms have passed.

“The constitutional court cannot issue public rulings that go against the constitution,” said Leonor Arteaga, a Salvadoran lawyer and director of the Human Rights Violations program in Impunity and Grave at the Procedural Law Foundation. said.

Popular support

However, with Bukele’s popularity rate skyrocketing – he ended his third year in office this May with a 87 percent Approval rating, according to a survey by Salvadoran media agency La Prensa Grafica – most citizens are content to let him bend the rules.

“If he submits himself [electoral] like all the other candidates, the people with their votes will be the one to decide,” 58-year-old voter Amadeo Lopez of Bukele told Al Jazeera.

Bukele’s government has also defended his decision to run for re-election.

Vice President Felix Ulloa has said it would not be unconstitutional. “One of the things that concern me throughout my life is respecting the rule of a democratic and constitutional state,” Ulloa said, as reported by the AP news agency.

Human rights the groups disagree, but there are several options available to oppose Bukele’s plan.

The Salvadoran constitution allows the right to “revolt” in the event of a re-election, but Medrano says that would be unlikely in the current political climate.

“Breaking the rules of the game [could unleash] She said.

‘Unusual’

Experts say Bukele is following a playbook used by other authoritarian leaders in Latin America, who were elected through democratic means but then eroded institutions state and change the rules to allow them hold power.

In 2009, Venezuelans voted in a referendum to abolish term limits on elected officials, paving the way for Hugo Chavez to remain in power until his death.

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega campaigned to change the constitution, passed in 2014, allowing presidents to be re-elected indefinitely; he is currently serving fourth semester in a row in the office.

And former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, currently awaiting trial on drug money in the US, won a second term in the hotly contested 2017 elections following a controversial ruling two years earlier that paved the way for his candidacy – despite a ban on re-election in the Honduran constitution. .

“History has shown us that when a president wants to take power by using illegitimate means, such as altering the constitution and the rule of law, it only means more human rights violations. , more power is concentrated in one person, and Arteaga said. “That shouldn’t be taken as normal.”

Public protest

The president’s office did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on criticism of his re-election plans.

While Bukele continues to gain popular support in El Salvador, Medrano said rifts in his administration are starting to show.

A law created Bitcoin fiat moneyrecently marked its one-year anniversary, has not been widely available to Salvadorans, while rising inflation and economic downturn have affected the daily lives of many residents.

In a recent survey (PDF) of the Institute for Public Opinion at the Central American University of San Salvador (IUDOP), 30% of respondents said the economic situation was worse during Bukele’s third year in office, compared with about 13 % of the previous year.

El Salvador also saw one of the deadliest days for nearly two decades in late March, prompting Bukele’s party to issue an exception suspending some civil liberties and has resulted in mass arrests and allegations of human rights violations.

This measure is still maintained more than five months later. And while 90% of Salvadorans say the exception is helping improve security, it has also drawn opposition, according to an IUDOP poll.

On September 15, day Bukele announced he would run for re-election, opposition groups, including veterans, trade unions and family members of those detained under exceptional circumstances, marched through the capital to protest against the government. .

Against this backdrop, Arteaga said Bukele’s campaign announcement was intended “to silence these voices and reinforce that he is here to stay and will be here for many years”.

Although she recognized the powerful mandate of the president, Arteaga predicted the coming “dark years” for the country. “The control of organizations and attack on every important voice will strengthen. “

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