Six months off in preparation for the presidential election
On the 30th, El Salvador’s Congress granted President Nayib Bukele permission to leave office for six months to prepare for elections scheduled for February 4, 2024. A personal secretary chosen by Bukele to act on his behalf has been named as the country’s interim leader.
According to the approved Decree, “The President of the Republic, Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez, is authorized to exercise his presidential prerogatives without pay from December 1, 2023 until May 31, 2024. ”, this leave of absence does not sever Bukele’s ties to the presidency, but rather suspends him from exercising his powers and official functions.
President Bukele is seeking re-election on the back of high approval ratings, but his move deepens concerns about El Salvador’s democratic backsliding. It has been pointed out that Bukele’s re-election could turn El Salvador into a de facto one-party state.
In El Salvador, consecutive terms of office were prohibited for presidents, but a 2021 Supreme Constitutional Court ruling now allows incumbent presidents to serve consecutive terms. Additionally, Congress voted to maintain President Bukele’s immunity from criminal prosecution.
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Pros and cons of policy
Some constitutional scholars have questioned the 2021 ruling, arguing that it lacks legal authority because the judges were not selected according to legal procedures. However, the Supreme Electoral Court ruled in early November that Bukele’s candidacy met the legal requirements.
Bukele has won support from the public for his tough crackdown on gangs, with recent opinion polls showing him maintaining an approval rating of 90%. His policies are known for his economic challenges, such as making Bitcoin legal tender. He has also detained tens of thousands of citizens without trial in the name of strengthening security, reducing the country’s murder rate.
On the other hand, human rights groups and academics are concerned about the weakening of checks and balances under Bukele’s government. Although the introduction of Bitcoin attracted international attention, it was not widely used domestically, worsening relations with the IMF and lowering the value of government bonds.
Former central bank governor Carlos Acevedo said Bukele’s economic policies led to a lack of investment, which would make his second term in office more difficult. Meanwhile, Bukele was negotiating a new debt agreement with the IMF.
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