Nayib Bukele is in full presidential campaign mode

Nayib Bukele at campaign rally on March 10 in Chalatenango, El Salvador

Discussions about politics in El Salvador in the week after the March 4 elections tended to turn to two main themes -- how could the FMLN lose so badly? and what about Nayib Bukele, the man not on any ballots and without a party on any of the ballots?

According to opinion polls, Bukele is easily the most popular politician in the country and trounces other potential presidential candidates in the 2019 elections.    After being expelled from the FMLN and removed as its candidate for mayor of San Salvador, Bukele announced his presidential ambitions.  He also led a campaign encouraging voters in the March 4 legislative and mayoral elections to nullify their vote or simply "stay home and watch television."

On March 5, the day following the elections, Bukele went onto Facebook live video to promote "the moment of opening our movement."   In the video he describes the prior day's election results as the "politics of the past" and presented himself as the candidate for a new El Salvador.    Bukele's video has since been viewed 1.6 million times.   (I think you have to be cautious, however, about the credibility of views or "likes" or retweets or followers of Bukele in social media.   He has a sophisticated social media army working for him., and they can boost any social media post dramatically). 

Bukele and his team were active on social media in the days following.  When an article in The Economist, labeled him "El Salvador’s rising political star" and wrote that "the real winner in legislative and local elections was not on the ballot," Bukele tweeted it out:

Another article from The Economist led Bukele to tweet:
Another article, this time from the Intelligence Unit of The Economist, where they affirm that the only thing that can avoid that ARENA returns to power is our movement.

Meanwhile his administration in the San Salvador municipal government has been tweeting photos of all his signature projects around the city, photos which Bukele's social media team promptly retweet.

Bukele also went on social media to announce a rally Saturday afternoon in Chalatenango city. At the rally, where crowds jammed the central square, the charismatic politician announced the start of the process to register his new political party with a goal of 200,000 signatures. Bukele askied his followers to pre-register at the Nuevas Ideas website with the braggadocious goal of collecting all the signatures in just three days.

In this major campaign rally, Bukele regularly repeated the theme that his New Ideas movement is the only thing standing between ARENA returning to power and the presidency. His choice of Chalatenango as a location for the rally was strategic. It was intended to show that he could be a politician for the whole country with support in rural areas and that he is not just a politician appealing to the urban younger voter. At the time I tuned into the live video of the rally, the video feed had already achieved 163,000 viewers from around the world. [You can watch the Bukele rally here, Bukele comes on stage at about 2:08:00). 

But Bukele will not have smooth sailing right into the presidency of El Salvador. For example, a judge this week ordered Bukele to post a $5000 bond and to refrain from speaking to or about Xochitl Marchelli, who is part of the San Salvador municipal council from the FMLN.  Bukele has been charged with the crime of expressions of violence against a woman after Marchelli accused the mayor of calling her a traitor and a witch and of throwing an apple at her during a San Salvador municipal council meeting.  The charges against Bukele had initially been dismissed by a court but were subsequently reinstated on appeal.  This event was used by the FMLN as its justification for expelling Bukele from the party.

Conservative media outlets are also headlining the arrest on murder charges of one of Bukele's drivers/bodyguards after the driver shot and killed another motorist in an apparent road rage incident.   There is no indication that the driver was working for Bukele at the time or that Bukele was anywhere near the incident.

If getting to the presidency in El Salvador just required winning in public opinion, Bukele would be assured of a victory in 2019.    But you can expect that ARENA will use its newfound control of the legislature, and the ability to appoint an attorney general and supreme court magistrates, to put up roadblocks in Bukele's path.   Meanwhile Bukele is seeking to generate a mass popular movement of a size against which even a concentrated effort by the parties in government cannot prevail.