The debate and the candidate who was not there

Sunday night in El Salvador there was a national televised debate among the candidates for president in El Salvador, sponsored by the Salvadoran association of broadcasters.    All the candidates were there except for the candidate who leads by a wide margin in all the public opinion polls.   Despite having earlier agreed to participate in the debate, Nayib Bukele instead went to his preferred medium, Facebook Live, for a two hour presentation of his plan of government.    This was the second scheduled debate in a row in which Bukele has refused to participate.   Bukele also refused to participate in a debate sponsored by the University of El Salvador.   His running mate, Felix Ulloa, failed to appear for a vice presidential debate a week earlier.

With as much as a 20 point margin in the polls, Bukele probably figured he had nothing to gain by showing up at debates where he knew that all three other candidates would be aiming at bringing him down.   Bukele's stated reasons for not attending were complaints about the formats of the debates with short times given for responses to questions (two minutes or less) and alleging that the University of El Salvador debate had been rigged by ARENA and the International Republican Institute. 

Instead, Bukele stood alone on a stage in an auditorium, in a fashion one commentator compared to Steve Jobs, surrounded by large video screens, and made a multi-media presentation of his proposals for government.    You can watch a replay of his event here

The debate Sunday night with the other presidential candidates proceeded as you might imagine.    Each candidate included an attack on the absence of Bukele in their opening statement.  There followed rounds of questions where the candidates gave their prepared talking points in fairly typical political debate fashion.   The moderator allowed some back and forth with the candidates.  You can watch a replay of the debate here.

This is only the second presidential election where there has been a televised debate in El Salvador.  The first was in 2014.   In 2009, Rodrigo Avila of ARENA refused to debate TV journalist turned politician Mauricio Funes. 

It is a pity that Nayib Bukele decided to boycott that last two debates.   Despite all the shortcomings of the debate format, debates give the population a chance to see all the candidates together on one stage in a fashion not scripted by the campaigns.   His decision not to participate was about what was good for his campaign, not about what is good for the consolidation of democracy in El Salvador.     


Diego said…
"It is a pity that Nayib Bukele decided to boycott that last two debates" - under normal circumstances yes, but these aren't normal circumstances. The first debate was scripted by the Arena party, to favor the Arena candidate, the evidence is clear. Both the FMLN & Arena parties (brands) are so mired in corruption, that the majority of the population just can't stomach them any longer (as polls indicate). For this reason I think most people aren't bothered that Nayib didn't participate in the second debate. Another reason is that it's highly likely that Calleja's candidacy is unconstitutional, considering his family's business receive concessions from the state. The company (Grupo Calleja) have denied he has any role in the organisation, which if true, means that he's been outright lying about his experience and position at that company throughout his entire candidacy (you couldn't make this stuff up!). Had this been Nayib, you can be assured that his candidacy would've been cancelled (voided), like they tried to do so many times last year. So why bother legitimizing a fraude by debating him. Talking of fraude - the electoral commission has morphed into a branch of Arena, so there is the potential for this to happen - and as I'm sure you're aware, you can't underestimate in Latin America how far political parties will go to hold on or attain power (Honduras!). While some (in Arena and the FMLN) ridicule this claim, experience and history in El Salvador shows us otherwise, and every citizen has a right to be concerned. Again, another reason these aren't normal circumstances and that Nayib was right in boycotting both debates. Personally, I don't even believe the Nuevas Ideas/GANA will be able to achieve some of their proposals if they win government, but I do believe they'll set the country on a better path, hopefuly bringing the country out of the dark ages in areas like abortion laws after the next Legislative elections. The thought of Arena controlling all levels of Government in the country is horrifying for a lot of people, which is also why I think some people are voting for Nayib, regardless of his flaws.