Nuevas Ideas' underwhelming showing in municipal elections

Counting votes in Antiguo Cuscatlán

In yesterday's election of mayors, Nuevas Ideas appears to have captured 28 municipal governments out of 44 in the newly-gerrymandered maps. (Two of those in coalition with CD).   This total probably came as a surprise to many, in light of Nuevas Ideas dominating showing in last month's presidential and Legislative Assembly elections.  With 78% of the vote nationally counted as of 7:30 Monday morning,  other parties in the lead to win municipalities included GANA(6), PDC (4), PCN (3), Fuerza Solidaria (1), ARENA (1) and a coalition of PDC/PCN (1).  The FMLN was left out of control of any municipality for the first time since it became a political party at the end of the civil war in 1992.

Turnout at the polls was low. Perhaps the reason was that people felt disconnected from the new mega-municipalities.  Or these elections may have had less energy without the charismatic energy of Nayib Bukele.  Bukele did not use his vast social media presence to call for his supporters to go out and vote in the municipal elections.   

Sunday morning started out with multiple reports of Nuevas Ideas persons supplanting citizens who had been trained and credentialed by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. For example, there were complaints that at the Albert Einstein University voting site in Antiguo Cuscatlán, Nuevas Ideas teams had arrived at 3:00 in the morning and were already seated at the voting tables (juntas receptoras de votos) with their positions signed and sealed by the time that other party teams and independent poll workers arrived.

Journalists pointed out the role of different Nuevas Ideas persons at that site.

Three employees from the communications area of the [Nuevas Ideas faction in the Legislative Assembly] appear at the table of JRV 4234 of the Albert Einstein University.

As in the presidential elections a month ago, there were various reports of the press being blocked from doing its job or being harassed by party activists.  When votes were being counted, the OAS observer mission denounced the TSE for issuing a statement that press should be excluded from voting sites after 6:30 pm.  

Milagro Navas

In the much-watched election between Milagro Navas of ARENA and Michelle Sol of Nuevas Ideas, Navas easily won the election.  Without any official election results in, but with reports from party poll watchers throughout the municipality, Navas declared victory at 7:40 p.m., and Sol conceded in a tweet a half hour later.

Nayib Bukele went on X (Twitter) to blame the current Nuevas Ideas mayors for not winning elections:

IN EL SALVADOR WE LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY AND THE PEOPLE'S DECISION IS RESPECTED It is clear that in many municipalities people have voted for mayors who are not from New Ideas; This is the vote of punishment for the terrible efforts that some of them have made. For this reason, as everyone could notice, I did not speak out supporting any candidate for mayor. However, the people are wise and the new mayors belong to parties that are indisputable allies of our project; parties that have always been there to support all the changes that our country has needed, since before winning the presidency in 2019 

Bukele said only one mayor out of 44 (Milagro Navas of ARENA) did not support him.   She replied to the contrary:

Count on us Mr. President @nayibbukele there are not 43, we will be 44 mayors that will seek the well-being of all Salvadorans.

She repeated her willingness to work with Bukele in her victory speech at a celebration in Antiguo Cuscatlán where she has been mayor for 36 years.  (A savvy politician who has survived for that long does not distance herself from a president with a 90% approval rating).

In the newly created mega-municipality of San Salvador Centro, Mario Duran, the current may of San Salvador, won election.  Bukele's signature Surf City tourism project and Bitcoin Beach are located in the new municipality of La Libertad Coast.   The Nuevas Ideas candidate there lost, however, to a candidate from GANA.

The election results show that the Nuevas Ideas brand is not all powerful.   People are able to recognize when local governments are doing a bad job, regardless of whether their mayor sports a jacket with a big white N on a cyan background.  

*Corrected March 4 to reflect that the OAS statement criticized a directive from TSE to exclude press.  The TSE later reversed this directive in response to OAS.