Less than a year before elections in El Salvador

El Salvador is less than a year from national elections. On February 4, 2024 the country will elect its president and all the deputies in the Legislative Assembly. That election will be followed a month later on March 3 with municipal elections and for delegates to the Central American parliament.  Since the president has a 5 year term and the rest of elected officials have 3 year terms, the conjunction of all officials being elected in the same year happens only once every 15 years.

Opinion polling shows very strong support for the re-election of Nayib Bukele as president, despite the fact that legal experts state that re-election of the president is expressly prohibited by the Constitution of El Salvador.  However, the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s supreme court, put into office when Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party summarily deposed the sitting magistrates in 2021, ruled that, clear language or not, the president may be re-elected. Then on September 15, 2022, Bukele announced to no one’s surprise that he would ask the Salvadoran public to reelect him in 2024.

A collection of the provisions of the Salvadoran constitution which prohibit re-election is set out at the end of this article.
In what looks like a threat to people who might think of trying to challenge Bukele’s legitimacy as a candidate, the Legislative Assembly also passed a law which imposes up to a 15 year prison term on anyone who attempts to block the candidacy of a person who is duly qualified to run for office. In other words, if you try to challenge Bukele in court, and the Bukele controlled judicial system finds that Bukele is entitled to run for office, you could end up in prison. The law also acts as an implied threat to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal ("TSE" for its initials in Spanish) that it must not refuse to enroll Bukele as a candidate.

That understanding of the impossibility of immediate re-election under the current constitution was also expressed by Nayib Bukele in a 2013 television interview.

The last president of El Salvador to be re-elected was a dictator, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, overthrown 78 years ago.

Will there be an opposition presidential candidate from other political parties, either alone or in a coalition? At the moment there do not appear to be any logical or popular candidates standing up for the unlikely quest to defeat Bukele. The FMLN has disappeared from the public consciousness as a credible political party. ARENA is a weak shadow of its former self, and the new political parties Vamos and Nuestro Tiempo have yet to develop a significant base of followers.

With respect to the election of El Salvador’s congress, it seems likely that Nuevas Ideas, in coalition with its ally the GANA party, will continue to have a super majority which makes it impossible for any opposition party or coalition to block legislation desired by Bukele. The super majority also gives Nuevas Ideas the ongoing ability to name the next attorney general and fill judicial positions without the need to negotiate with the opposition. It’s easy to predict that voters will be urged to just mark the cyan and white “N” for Nayib and Nuevas Ideas on the presidential ballot and as a straight party ticket for legislative deputies.

Next year will also see the debut of internet voting for a Salvadoran election.  In 2022 the Legislative Assembly passed a Special Law for Voting Outside of the Country. This law authorizes internet voting for the Salvadoran diaspora around the world. Those Salvadoran citizens outside of the country could vote in previous elections, but they needed to go in person to a consulate or come to El Salvador to cast their vote. Few did.

As of February this year, there are 6,135,013 voters on the election rolls, and of these 626,654, or more than 10% are in the exterior. By contrast, in the 2019 presidential election there were 5,613,101 and 350,638 outside of the country.  There were only 5948 votes from the exterior that year.

(For reasons I explained in this post in 2019, the sum of 5.6 million voters on the electoral roll in 2019 was highly suspect and certainly way too high. The higher 6.1 million voter total as of this year is even more questionable, because it would assume that youth who turned age 18 in the last 5 years significantly exceeded the number of deaths (including 3 pandemic years) as well as the record amount of outward migration from the country in that time period).   

Under the new law, remote voting by Internet will commence 30 calendar days before election day in the country and continue through February 4.  Article three of the law establishes that in order for residents abroad to vote they must prove their nationality by means of their Documento Único de Identidad (DUI) or their passport, issued within or outside the national territory and whether or not it is in force.

As of yesterday, however, the TSE has not yet met with any technology vendor who would provide the systems and software for internet voting, with voting scheduled to start in 10 months. (Hopefully they don’t use the same vendor who designed the faulty Chivo Bitcoin wallet).  In addition, the total TSE budget for the 2024 elections approved by the Salvadoran treasury department was $129 million, $30 million less than requested by the TSE.   

A civil society group has asked the TSE to invite the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the European Union to provide election observers to monitor next year's elections.

With less than a year before the elections, Nuevas Ideas has already begun campaigning for Bukele's re-election.   Except such campaigns are illegal under Salvadoran laws governing the electoral process.  Articles 172 and 175 of El Salvador’s electoral code prohibit campaigning or electoral propaganda outside of the period of the final four months before the presidential election. In other words, no one is supposed to be having rallies or publishing support of a candidate until October 4, 2023 for next year’s election.  But that is stopping no one in Nuevas Ideas as the photo at the top of this post illustrates, on a day in October 2022 when Nuevas Ideas deputies all brought campaign caps into the Legislative Assembly.  

The TSE even issued a warning on February 21, 2023 that campaigning before the official elections period is prohibited.

Five days after that warning, the president of the Legislative Assembly, Ernesto Castro, led a large delegation of Nuevas Ideas deputies, to an election rally at a Church of Scientology auditorium in the Los Angeles area.

(Note the "Sí a la reelección" (Yes to re-election) poster behind Castro as he speaks).

Given the history of polarized political discourse and enormous media promotion by Bukele and his government, the UCA expects an unbalanced campaign of misinformation in coming months:

If the population resented in the past some weariness due to dirty electoral campaigns, this year it must prepare to attend an absolutely unbalanced one that will exceed the known limits of barbarism. The political debt [public election funding] for the opposition parties is now history and will put us in the midst of a competition, in terms of resources, in which the ruling party will compete in a car and the opposition on a bicycle. The opposition, if there is one in this campaign, will have to be really creative to compete in this inequality of conditions.

The gigantic propaganda machine, paid for with the money of Salvadorans, can be activated in seconds to praise the president or to attack his critics and continue undermining democratic institutions. The attacks will focus on discrediting figures or institutions of what they consider to be the opposition or against those who insist on reporting professionally from alternative media.

Stay tuned, but don't expect surprises.  


Provisions of the Constitution of El Salvador which prohibit the re-election of the country's president.

Article 88

The principle that a President cannot succeed himself (alternabilidad) is indispensable for the maintenance of the established form of government and political system. Violation of this norm makes insurrection an obligation.

 Article 131

[Responsibilities of Legislative Assembly]

16th.—To obligatorily disavow the President of the Republic or his substitute if, when his constitutional term has ended, he continues in the exercise of his post. In this case, if no person has been legally summoned for the exercise of the Presidency, a Provisional President shall be designated.

Article 152

[The following] shall not be candidates for the President of the Republic:

1st.—He who has filled the Presidency of the Republic for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the period immediately prior to or within the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential period.

Article 154

The presidential period shall be of five years, and shall begin and end on the first of June, without the person who exercised the Presidency being able to continue in his functions one day more.

Article 248

Under no circumstances, may the articles of this Constitution, which refer to the form and system of government, to the territory of the Republic, and to the principle that a President cannot succeed himself (alternabilidad), be amended.


In addition, the Constitution explicitly states that legislative deputies and municipal officials may be re-elected while never containing a similar statement about the president.