Coverage of Bukele victory in the English language press
Nayib Bukele's victory in El Salvador was covered by the English language press primarily by the wire services and by the papers in communities with significant Salvadoran populations. In general, it was not front page news. The coverage in the English language press tended to focus on Bukele's youth and social media messaging, the landslide nature of the victory, Bukele's anti-corruption message, voters' rejection of the ARENA and FMLN two party system in the country, and the challenges he will face governing without a legislative coalition in the National Assembly..
Gene Palumbo and Elisabeth Malkin writing in the New York Times shared:
The dramatic win for Mr. Bukele, 37, who was running as an outsider, underscores the deep discredit into which the country’s traditional parties have fallen. Voters appeared to be willing to gamble on a relative newcomer to confront the country’s poverty and violence, shutting out the right- and left-wing parties that have dominated Salvadoran politics for three decades.Emily Green writing for PRI stated:
Bukele, a 37-year-old populist and social media star, has catapulted to the top of the polls with a simple message: he won’t steal.
That might seem like a low bar for the presidency. But it speaks volumes to voters in a country where political corruption is rampant, and three of the last four presidents have been accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Associated Press led with:
Former mayor of San Salvador wins landslide after campaign on the slogan ‘There’s enough money when no one steals.’
The Washington Post story on Bukele's election missed the point. The Post focused almost entirely on gangs and security in El Salvador, which Bukele almost never did. There were many things on voter's minds when they elected Bukele on Sunday, but choosing him for his security policy was not one of them.
Heather Gies, writing in Al Jazeera, included insights of Alvaro Artiga, professor of political science at the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University who said:
Bukele's anti-establishment message struck a chord with the dissatisfied electorate - young voters, in particular. "He presents himself as different from the traditional," said Artiga.
But without an established party, a Bukele administration would face steep challenges.
ARENA holds the largest bloc in the legislature, with 37 seats. It is followed by the FMLN, which has 23.
GANA and another smaller party Bukele allied with together hold 11 seats, while other parties control a total of 13 seats.
"He needs to strengthen his party," Artiga said of Bukele's likely political priority to seek gains in the 2021 legislative elections. "The only way to do that is by adopting measures with some popularity."
Charles T. Call, writing for the Brookings Institutions has a lengthy analysis of the significance of Bukele's victory which concludes:
Nevertheless, at a time when authoritarianism is on the march, the actual election in El Salvador was a good day for democracy. The voting itself was peaceful, with only two (non-electorally related) homicides reported on election day. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced 87 percent of the results by 10 pm, and the two traditional parties congratulated Bukele promptly. ...Time will tell if the trend toward more anti-establishment, anti-corruption governments in the hemisphere will accelerate. And the next five years will show whether the millennial can deliver on citizens’ high expectations. Although El Salvador’s traditional elites seem eager to write him off as a media-hungry populist, Bukele may prove to be a good partner to the United States and the region in tackling the corruption, bad governance, and insecurity that underlie hopelessness and migration to the north.
The Lost Angeles Times had an unfortunate headline for its online coverage of Bukele's victory, proclaiming: "Social media star from far right party declares victory in El Salvador's presidential election". While Bukele was certainly a "social media star" it is inaccurate to label him as "from [a] far right party." He was only on the GANA ticket as a matter of practicality after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal blocked all other ways to get on the ballot. Until an hour before he was nominated he had never been a GANA member and promptly distanced himself from the party once he had the nomination.
The LA Times article does have a good comment form Geoff Thale at the Washington Office on Latin America who points out that it is hard to label Bukele as leftist or right-wing:
As a candidate, Bukele ducked interviews and sat out public debates, relying instead on Twitter to communicate directly with his large following. He professes to have no political ideology, a significant shift in a country that has long been sharply divided among ideological lines.
“If you ask what is his program, it’s very hard to know,” Thale said.Reuters notes Bukele's distance from the traditional left in Latin America:
Growing up, Bukele’s relatively wealthy family was sympathetic to the FMLN, the former leftist guerrilla army that became a political party at the end of the civil war.
But Bukele has turned away from Latin America’s traditional left, branding Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega as well as conservative Honduran Juan Orlando Hernandez as dictators.
“A dictator is a dictator, on the ‘right’ or the ‘left’,” Bukele wrote last week on Twitter.For me, the most significant driver for this election was an opinion poll which showed that two thirds of voters did not want the FMLN to continue governing the country. But an equal number also tolled pollsters that they did not want ARENA to return to power. Rejecting those two choices, a sizable majority of voters chose Bukele as the third option, pouring hopes and dreams into his candidacy that he may have a difficult time fulfilling.
The least corrupt
Among the corrupt
is still corrupt.
That said, the FMLN and ARENA both have long histories mirroring this thought process from Mao Zedong -
In his political text "Problems of War and Strategy," Zedong wrote that "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
Sadly, today, El Salvador continues to be ruled by the political power of gunfire.