On Friday, September 3, the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador, through its Constitutional Chamber, issued a surprising resolution that opened the door for the reelection of President Bukele for the period 2024 – 2029. This resolution orders the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to comply with this new mandate and allows the sitting President to participate in the electoral contest for the second time.

The Constitution of El Salvador establishes the prohibition of sitting presidents from holding a second term. In the first paragraph of Article 152, that the person who has held the Presidency for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the immediately preceding period may not be President; however, Bukele has been maneuvering to find a way around this ban.

Last May, he managed to get the new Legislative Assembly to dismiss the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber and the Attorney General, excusing himself in arguments without legal support. The new law states that the Legislature is empowered to take such decisions, but only after following a procedure based on specific grounds established in the Constitution.

However, these types of illegalities were possible thanks to the fact that the Legislative Assembly is made up of a majority of deputies from Bukele’s party and aligned with the interests of the president. It is important to note that this election was obtained through illegitimate and undemocratic actions, and with a disproportionate electoral campaign, in which the New Ideas party concentrated more than 70% of its spending on publicity, not to mention the use of public resources for electoral purposes.

Although this resolution establishes that: “allowing the sitting President to seek a second term, does not imply de facto that he will be elected, it only implies that the people will have among their range of options the person who at that time holds the presidency, and it is the people who decide whether to place trust in him again or whether to opt for a different option.”

However, it is clear that if he were to compete for new presidential reelection, Bukele would have an extraordinary advantage over any contender, because he has the entire governmental ideological apparatus and abundant state resources.

To many, what’s most disturbing is that this resolution signifies a new violation of the Constitution with no consequences because the government has no significant opposition, nor institutional counterweights.

An article by investigative journal El Faro entitled “Salvadoran Democracy is in a Coma“, states that: “We are witnessing the end of the Republic and its replacement by an undemocratic family clan that uses the state for its own benefit. But for Bukele and his circle to achieve their ends, they must rely on a slew of dishonorable, opportunistic, and corrupt officials and bureaucrats who operate at their behest, as well as on a citizenry blinded by propaganda.”


La Corte Suprema de Justicia de El Salvador, a través de la Sala de lo Constitucional, en una sorpresiva resolución, emitida la noche del viernes 3 de septiembre, abrió la puerta a la reelección del presidente Bukele para el período 2024 – 2029. La resolución ordena al Tribunal Supremo Electoral que acate que una persona que ejerza la Presidencia de la República y no haya sido Presidente en el periodo inmediato anterior participe en la contienda electoral por segunda ocasión.

La Constitución de El Salvador prohibe la reelección presidencial, en su artículo 152, literal primero, se establece que no podrá ser Presidente el que haya desempeñado la Presidencia de la República por más de seis meses, consecutivos o no, durante el período inmediato anterior; sin embargo, Bukele ha venido maniobrando para encontrar la forma de obviar esta prohibición. 

En el pasado mes de mayo logró que la nueva Asamblea Legislativa destituyera a los magistrados de la Sala de lo Constitucional y al Fiscal General, excusándose en argumentos sin sustento jurídico. La ley establece que la Asamblea Legislativa está facultada para tomar este tipo de decisiones, pero siguiendo un procedimiento basado en causas específicas establecidas en la misma Constitución. 

Sin embargo, este tipo de ilegalidades fueron posibles gracias a que la Asamblea Legislativa está conformada por una mayoría de diputados del partido de Bukele y alineada con los intereses del presidente. Es importante señalar que esta elección se obtuvo a través de acciones ilegítimas y antidemocráticas, y con una campaña electoral desproporcionada, en la que el partido Nuevas Ideas concentró más del 70% de su gasto en publicidad, sin mencionar el uso indiscriminado de recursos públicos para fines electorales.

Con la resolución del 3 de septiembre, los 5 magistrados impuestos por la Asamblea Legislativa, dejan en evidencia que están alineados a los intereses del Presidente, aunque la misma resolución establece que: “el permitir la postulación del Presidente para competir de nuevo por la presidencia, no implica de facto que este llegue a ser electo, implica únicamente que el pueblo tendrá entre su gama de opciones a la persona que a ese momento ejerce la presidencia, y es el pueblo quien decide si deposita nuevamente la confianza en él o si se decanta por una opción distinta.”

No obstante, es claro que de competir para una nueva reelección presidencial, Bukele tendría una extraordinaria ventaja sobre cualquier contendiente, porque dispone de todo el aparato ideológico gubernamental y de abundantes recursos estatales.

Por otra parte , esta resolución, significa una nueva violación de la Constitución, sin la posibilidad de que hayan consecuencias, pòrque práctiamente el gobierno no tiene una oposición significativa, ni contrapesos institucionales, pues, así como lo afirma el períodico El Faro, en un artículo reciente: “La democracia salvadoreña, está en coma”

En dicho artículo se afirma: “asistimos a pasos agigantados al fin de la República y su sustitución por un clan familiar antidemocrático que utiliza el Estado en su beneficio. Pero para que consigan sus objetivos son necesarios funcionarios y burócratas indignos, oportunistas o corruptos que operen a su favor, y una ciudadanía cegada por la propaganda. 

Corruption, El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes, Politics

Among Apparent Rampant Corruption in the Region, El Salvador Ranks Surprisingly Low

The second part of USAID’s survey on the political culture of Latin America examined the effects of crime and corruption on democracy. As trust is a necessary facet of democracy, fear of violence and a lack of confidence in the police or other public officials are detrimental to its development.

When survey respondents were asked about their perception of personal security, 44% of Salvadorans reported feeling “somewhat” to “very” unsafe, the third highest level of insecurity in the Americas, ranking behind only Peru and Argentina. El Salvador also has one of the highest rates of violence in the Americas, so these results aren’t surprising. In fact, these abstract perceptions of insecurity are approximately in line with the crime respondents have actually experienced: 38.6% of households report having at least one member who was a victim of violent crime in the past 12 months (crimes specifically mentioned in the survey question are robbery, burglary, assault, fraud, blackmail, extortion, and violent threats). This rate places El Salvador in the group of countries with the highest levels of victimization, on par with Mexico and Venezuela – an alarming place to be. Generally, the young, the wealthy, and those who live in urban metropolitan areas are most likely to be victimized, though citizens with greater economic problems also report high levels. USAID interviewers further found that respondents in neighborhoods with gang presence (pandillas) were more likely to have been victimized, though it is impossible to determine from these data whether this is causation or simply coincidence.

After discussing crime, survey questions turned to the issue of corruption. When asked directly how common it was for public officials to be corrupt, 66.7% of Salvadoran respondents answered that it was “common” or “very common,” a decline from 2008, and only 8.2% believe the problem of corruption is non-existent. Though at first glance these rates may seem high, it’s important to note that this is the 2nd lowest rate of perceived corruption in Latin America, lower even than that of the United States (69.9% of U.S. respondents think corruption is common practice in the country). Furthermore, only 11.4% of Salvadorans polled said they had been victims of corruption: again, one of the lowest levels in Latin America. These numbers would appear to be heartening, but given what we know about El Salvador, they are mostly just perplexing.  Nor do the results match up with other surveys, such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which places El Salvador more moderately, as the 16th most corrupt country in the region (out of 28).  According to Transparency International’s metrics, corruption in El Salvador definitely exceeds levels in the US, Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil, among others.

It is difficult to determine whether these responses of perceived corruption correspond to the real levels.  Any number of factors can influence the accuracy of responses, be it a misformulation of the survey questions, the well-known ‘honeymoon period’ of recently elected President Funes, who still enjoys a 72% approval rate, or the simple subtlety of corruption.  A cultural accustom to corruption, along with differing personal definitions of the term can greatly affect the public’s perception.  On the other hand, since there is no way to measure the actual level of corruption in a country, there is no evidence contrary to the survey’s results.  The level of perceived corruption could very well be an accurate representation of the level of practiced corruption.  Also, the percentage of those who perceive the country to be corrupt, puzzlingly, seems to be lower than that of those who note that police don’t protect their citizens.  Many people would consider corruption to be a factor in situations where police fall short of their responsibilities.

Perhaps this is because corruption motivated by power is inherently harder to measure than that motivated by money. Even financially-motivated corruption, however, is much more complex than the survey implies.  The only question used to assess the entire culture of actual (rather than perceived) corruption is about authority figures asking law-abiding citizens for bribes. This is where the survey’s information most significantly falls short of a full investigation of the issue.  Corruption is more than actions, it is a culture.  When it takes hold of a society, it builds impunity and a weak rule of law, which erode democratic values.

If the perception of corruption is so low, relative to the other nations in the region, then the lack of respect for the law is puzzlingly high. More than 52% of interviewed Salvadorans agree that officials would be justified in occasionally acting outside of the law in order to catch a criminal, giving El Salvador the 2nd lowest population support for rule of law. Moreover, just over 50% of citizens say that a coup d’état would be justified in conditions of high crime and high corruption.

Overall, the seemingly low level of perceived corruption relative to other nations in the region is promising.  Although the true level of corruption is extremely important to the success of a democratic system, the public’s perception of corruption is also important.  The more corrupt the public views the government, the less trust people have for the government, which eventually destabilizes democracy.  The public’s optimistic attitude towards the level of corruption implies a certain level of trust in the government’s democratic system.

Economy, El Salvador Government, Politics

Economic Well-Being Strongly Tied to Democratic Attitudes in El Salvador

The AmericasBarometer survey has recently published their biannual report, The Political Culture of Democracy in El Salvador.  Funded by USAID and other organizations, it focuses on a multitude of social and economic factors and their effect on citizen’s evaluation of democracy in El Salvador. Given the variety of important topics covered in this report, Voices will be publishing a series of articles on the results and their significance.

AmericasBarometer conducts surveys on the political culture of democracy in the Americas every two years, meaning that 2008 was the last year of data collection prior to the current. Since 2008, the economic recession has hit the Americas, and the rest of the world, hard. In Latin America especially, the rates of unemployment and the ‘extreme working poor’ (defined in the report as those who live on less than US$1.25 a day) rose significantly.  Unemployment rose to 8.5%.  Additionally, 9.9% of citizens are now considered members of the extreme working poor. Further, remittances from the U.S. to El Salvador (which account for 17% of El Salvador’s GDP) declined by approximately 12%. Thus, a special focus in this round of AmericasBarometer surveys emerged: the effect of hard economic times on citizens’ perception of democracy.

The economic recession seems to have gone hand-in-hand with a decline or even reversal of democratic development in many developing countries. El Salvador is no exception, reporting a 4-point decrease (68 to 64 on a 0-100 scale) in public support for democracy since 2008. This decline makes sense, especially in light of a 1996 study by Adam Przeworski, a democratic social theorist and political economist, analyzing the link between income and political stability.  Called the Przeworski Threshold, his finding was that no democracy has ever collapsed when the per capita income exceeded $6,055. Unfortunately, El Salvador has not reached that threshold, pointing to a connection between the country’s constant state of political unrest and its ongoing economic struggles. The reason behind this connection is two-fold: besides a lack of funds to support basic infrastructure, public discontent over the government’s money management and institutionalized economic inequality can incite violent political protests. In keeping with this analysis, survey data consistently indicated that democratic dissatisfaction increased as household income decreased, and household income has decreased the most for those who were already the poorest.

Interestingly, though there is a correlation between a survey respondent’s worsening personal financial situation and a lower level of support for democracy, respondents tended to be much more critical of the democratic system when it was the wider government that was in economic trouble. In a way, this is a positive indicator of citizens’ understanding of the democratic system: it signifies a recognition that the success of a country as a whole and the competence of its leaders have a more permanent positive effect than does individual prosperity. At the same time, however, these statistics highlight how important it is that the democratic government in El Salvador dedicate itself to improving the system in place, so as not to lose the support of its people in times of hardship.  It is during difficult times when public support is the most necessary.

Interviewers also asked participants to rate and compare their levels of ‘life satisfaction’ between 2008 and 2010 (note that 2008 life satisfaction levels are retrospectively reported, and results thus do not reflect real satisfaction in 2008). The results are still astounding: 40.8% of Salvadorans reported a decline in life satisfaction in these two years, most closely influenced by a negative perception of their personal economic situation, which has resulted in lower levels of confidence in democracy.

Other significant factors in a respondent’s appraisal of democracy are education, gender, and class. There is a positive correlation between higher levels of education and support for democracy: 61.7 % of Salvadorans with no or only primary education ‘at least somewhat’ support democracy, compared with 64.1% of middle/ high school graduates, and 68.4% of those with a post-secondary education. Historically, women in El Salvador have been less supportive of democracy, most likely due to their lower social status and rising violence towards women. The survey’s 2010 results confirm this. Only 61.7% of women professed support for democracy, compared with 66.7% of men. Lastly, as one descends through the quintiles of wealth, support for democracy likewise declines, confirming the correlation between economic well-being and approval of the democratic system.

We must ask, then, if a decrease in support for democracy necessarily a) implies a denial of the legitimacy of the political system or b) threatens political stability in a region. It seems to not do either. Despite a significant decrease in support for democracy as a political theory, survey results from El Salvador indicate a 7.1% overall increase in support for the functioning political system, most significantly tied to perceptions of the government’s economic success. The indicator for political system support is calculated based on responses to five different survey questions, which address the fairness of the judicial system, the respectability of the country’s political institutions, the protection of basic rights, citizens’ national pride, and, more abstractly, the perceived ideal level of support for the system. Many of the significant factors in determining support for democracy (such as economic well-being) remain significant when considering system support. In practice, though, they indicate opposite trends. Where the most highly educated were the biggest supporters of theoretical democracy, they show the lowest levels of support for the current political system as a whole. This is unsurprising, however, as this general trend appears in most developing and developed nations. Likewise, though women were more likely to be democratically disinclined, they reported higher levels of support for the actual political system than did their male counterparts. The general increase in system support seen here is also due to citizens’ perceptions of improvement in government economic performance, a hopeful indicator that the Americas may soon emerge from the recession.

The results of the AmericasBarometer survey are in keeping with those of the El Faro survey we covered previously, though the former is notably less partial. Where the El Faro survey tended to ask leading questions and thus overstate respondents’ dissatisfaction, AmericasBarometer kept questions as open as possible and seemed to do its best to remove bias and suggestion. That said, anti-democratic sentiment is still unmistakably present in El Salvador: on AmericasBarometer’s 0-100 scale, El Salvador scored third highest in public support for military coups (40.9 in 2010). Still in keeping with El Faro’s results, where the majority of respondents agreed that they would “support an authoritarian government if it resolved economic problems,” AmericasBarometer finds that support for a coup is highest among those who see the (national and personal) economic situation as grave. Again, significant determinants in support for a coup are education level, relative wealth, sex, and age: the more educated and/or wealthy the respondent, the less likely it was that he or she would support a military coup; and men and older members of society were less likely to be in support than women or youth.

The results of the survey show, for the most part, that economic well-being, whether that of individual families or that of the nation’s government, is one of the strongest factors that affect the public’s support of democracy.  In El Salvador, recently, personal economic well-being has been decreasing, and along with it, the support of democracy.  On the other hand, the public’s perception of the government’s well-being has brought an increase in support for the current system.  While public support for democracy as a political theory is important, support for the current, though imperfect, democratic system is more important to immediate political stability, and this does not seem to have been negatively impacted by the recent economic troubles.


El Salvador Government, Politics, transparency

Surveys on Democracy in El Salvador

Earlier this month, El Faro published the results of a November 2010 survey conducted by Analítika Research & Marketing (ARM) that highlighted the public’s willingness to sacrifice democracy for greater economic stability and publicDemo security. Almost half the respondents said they would support a military coup to replace the democratic system in place if economic and security issues are not resolved. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said that the resolution of their problems, regardless of the means, is the government’s most important responsibility.

A 2008 survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) reported that 61% of Salvadorans consider the most pressing problem to be their economic situation, while 34% said security was their primary concern. Combined, 95% of Salvadorans list the economy or security as their top concern. Similarly, the Latinobarómetro’s annual poll found that only 18% report that they are satisfied with their economic status.

El Salvador’s numbers are in line with the rest of Latin America. The 2006 United Nations Report on Democracy in Latin America found that 56% of Latin Americans “believe that economic development is more important than democracy, and 55% would “support an authoritarian government if it resolved economic problems.”

At first glance, these surveys might seem to indicate that half of all Salvadorans are itching for an overthrow of the current government, with the economic situation not improving and security situation only becoming more serious. Fortunately, several other factors keep extremists from organizing a coup. For one, in December 2010, President Funes still enjoyed a 79% approval rating, indicating that while people are not happy about their economic situation, they don’t necessarily blame it on the Funes Administration. In addition, of those who are willing to sacrifice democracy for a better economy, at least some of them are also among the 18% who are satisfied with their economic status, but believe that an autocratic government is better. Finally, most Salvadorans over the age of 25 or 30 remember life during wartime and would probably not support another conflict.

What is most telling about the ARM survey is that 72% believe the government is responsible for resolving their problems, possibly indicating that Salvadorans could be more proactive in solving their own problems. Similarly, the willingness to trade democracy for a better economy and higher levels of security indicate a lack of commitment or confidence in the democratic process. This is born out in the low levels of public participation in local and central governments. And arguably, it’s the lack of public participation that allows those with economic and political power to protect their interests while the majority continues to struggle. Or put another way, it’s the widespread willingness to sacrifice democracy for economic development that leaves Salvadorans without either.

While the economic and security issues have not improved much since President Funes took office in June 2009, the administration and Legislative Assembly have taken steps to eliminate corruption and make the government more transparent. Now is a good time for more Salvadorans to get involved in their local and central governments, and contribute to building the economy and improving security.

Elections 2009

Outlook for Electoral Reforms

Political analysts widely agree that in order to ensure a strong and effective democracy in El Salvador significant reforms must be made to the country’s electoral system. Some of the most commonly suggested reforms include:

  • Guaranteeing public access to information
  • Better regulation of political parties –their formation, ethics, fund raising and campaign spending
  • Extending the vote to Salvadorans living abroad
  • Decentralizing voting centers
  • Reform of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to separate it’s administrative and judicial functions

There have been proposals in the Legislative Assembly regarding most of these reforms, but little progress has been made. Now, all of these reforms are proposed in the political platforms of both Mauricio Funes (FMLN) and Rodrigo Ávila (ARENA). However, the question remains whether or not these will actually be implemented by a candidate once they’ve been elected.

Avaro Artiga, a political scientist at the UCA, views progress on these reforms as largely unlikely, regardless of which candidate wins, due to a number of factors.

Reforms such as extending the vote to Salvadorans living abroad and reforming the TSE may be unlikely because they are logistically tricky or costly. In addition, both parties may show a lack of enthusiasm to implement reforms such as public access to information and regulation of political parties because these would signigicantly restrict the activities of both the major parties.

On the other hand, which ever party loses the presidential elections may push for transparency reforms because they would have a larger impact on the ruling party’s power than that of an opposition party. However, Artiga notes, real progress is unlikely without increased and sustained public pressure, such as that in the run-up before an election. If these reforms have not been implemented in the run-up to this election, he believes that electoral reforms will be largely ignored until the next election cycle.

This may be especially true in the context of the global financial crisis, where dealing with the deteriorating economy will take precedence over democratic reforms.