2024 national elections in El Salvador underway

National elections in El Salvador which could consolidate one party rule by Nayib Bukele in El Salvador have already begun.   A period of internet voting for Salvadorans living in other countries has kicked off an electoral process which will likely see Nayib Bukele re-elected for an immediate second term, despite a constitutional prohibition of the same.  Voters are also electing deputies to the Legislative Assembly. Because there is voting, it will be called "democracy," but at the end of the elections, the populist authoritarian ruler of El Salvador will have consolidated all political power to himself.         

Internet voting for the Salvadoran diaspora outside of the country began on January 6.    According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), 120,634 Salvadorans had voted in this fashion as of January 24.  Their votes for deputies in the legislative assembly are being allocated as if they lived in the department of San Salvador, boosting the vote totals for this department, and increasing the number of votes necessary for any single party in San Salvador to obtain a seat in the legislature.

Recent public opinion polls from IUDOP (81.5% will vote for Bukele) and UFG (70.9%)  show Bukele with overwhelming support.  Every opposition party is polling below 4%. (It should be noted that these polls did not include Salvadorans living outside of the country, although the common wisdom asserts that Bukele has enormous support outside of the country as well).

Bukele's support is driven by perceptions of substantial improvement in the security situation in the country, along with a polished publicity machine which portrays the president as author of a glimmering new El Salvador. It does not seem to matter that the images in the slick videos and the realities in most communities around the country do not match.

On social media, Bukele, assured of his own reelection, is engaged in a campaign of fear, claiming that opposition parties want to release gang members from the country's prisons, and that he needs to have super majority domination in the Legislative Assembly to continue that State of Exception and keep the justice system locking up criminals.

“By their fruits you will know them.” If after all the grieving, war, pain, corruption, extortion, underdevelopment and blood, that the opposition brought to our country, as long as we can remember... If after seeing how they have voted in the Assembly: against the Territorial Control Plan, against the War against Gangs, against the Exception Regime, against judicial reform, against the election of the Attorney General, against the election of the Supreme Court, against anti-gang laws, and against the equipment and weapons for the police and the armed forces... If after all that, someone still believes in them, that person does not see, because they do not want to see; they won't change. Let them vote for whomever they want and let democracy decide what direction our country should take.


The opinion polls show that in voting for members of the Legislative Assembly, Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party also leads with 70% or more in voter preference.   But a change in the electoral rules regarding the way seats are allocated to parties, enacted by a vote in the Nuevas Ideas controlled legislature in recent months, makes it likely that Nuevas Ideas will control as many as 95% of the seats in the new legislature.  (For more on this change from the Hare quota method to the D'Hondt method, see my earlier post).  

An analysis by UFG, based on polling data, showed that the change in method of allocating seats in the legislature, results in Nuevas Ideas capturing 57 of 60 seats under the new D'Hondt method, in comparison to 48 of 60 seats under the existing method used in the country.  Most opposition parties could be left outside of the legislature, including the once-ruling leftist FMLN party.

The process of Internet voting has seen widespread violations of the rules which previously existed for the process of in-person voting on election day.  For example, political parties and candidates have been prohibited from seeking votes on the day of the election and can certainly not stand next to someone watching as they cast their vote.    

Yet as internet voting proceeds, vice president Felix Ulloa has been touring Salvadoran communities in the US and Canada campaigning for his reelection along with Bukele.   He and his party are urging eligible voters to pick up their cell phones and cast their ballots for the president.  

Yet the failure to enact any rules for this month of voting around the world has resulted in scenes like this one, with the Vice President standing next to a voter with her cellphone ballot: