Those who predicted the victory of President Nayib Bukele in Sunday’s legislative elections in El Salvador were able to see the most resounding of possible confirmations on Monday. The ruling coalition –two new parties and one old and marginal one– put an end to three decades of exclusionary bipartisanship (twenty years of government by a right-wing party and ten by its left-wing rival). The ruling party has won its own majority in the Legislative Assembly, a victory that Bukele tweet with exclamation points and night skies that shine from the fires of the festivities.
The horizon that has been opened is doubly historical. Not only did it turn into minorities two forces that seemed to exercise an inalienable historical representation for each of its electorates; one that would be retained regardless of his achievements at the head of the country. Rather, it achieved a triumph that none of them had obtained for themselves in the successive moments of highly polarized alternation of the last 20 years: a such number of seats in the Legislature that the Executive will never be able to cite the slack in support as an explanation for radical initiatives for change and improvement that are frustrated.
It had been, until now, also the situation of Bukele. Elected president on February 3, 2019 at 38 years old, Bukele had broken the bipartisanship in the first magistracy of the State, but the exercise of a power that this young politician and businessman wanted agile, without hindrance or opposition, had found resistance and the complaint, expressed without diminishing energy until one day before the elections Sunday, by a Legislative Assembly still dominated by the two parties that each day felt more threatened not only the predictability of their alternation, but their mere presence in the body.
Also, participation was greater in these legislative sessions than in the previous two. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), 51% of the electoral roll voted. Everything seems to indicate that one of the brakes that made the turnout not even higher was not the enthusiasm, but the pandemic. Even the TSE itself suggests this in its ad of the attendance numbers once the tables have been closed. In a country of 7 million inhabitants, more than 5.3 million voters had to elect 84 congressmen to the Legislative Assembly, 262 municipal councils and 20 representatives in the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).
Until the election, Bukele’s best enemy had been his own impatience. Almost a year ago, the same president who has now won the legislative elections broke into the Assembly with the Armed Forces. The photo of the bearded president, almost the youngest in the world, sitting in the chair of the president of Congress surrounded by soldiers with machine guns went around the world. However, he did not come to take power, but to urge legislators to meet and vote on a budget that included a generous – or costly, according to his critics – social plan.
Bukele, a law student who impatiently dropped out of college before graduation, invoked constitutional articles in his favor. For the diary The lighthouse, that irruption in Congress was the most shocking moment of the democracy recovered in 1992, when the guerrillas – whose political arm is today the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) – and the military and paramilitaries of the Squadrons of the Death – whose political arm is today the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) – signed the peace.
For The Economist It was one more proof of the great virtue of Bukele’s spectacular communication – his opponents say demagoguery -: the British weekly predicted his triumph now, due to the rejoicing it caused his electorate, or his public, that It will force itself to work, and not to resist – due to the obstruction, the absence, and the refusal to give a quorum – to the parties defeated in the presidential election.
By the way, not all voices are so convinced that Bukele’s recurrence to force and action, when limits were placed on presidential power, were always closer to a theatrical coup and always very far from a coup d’état or of an authoritarianism that seeks quick consent to its program by reason or by force.
Bukele’s party is called New Ideas (NI) and the other young ally party is GANA (Great National Alliance). Their names do not reveal much of any ideology, beyond the commitment for a change that would be moved by the novelty of the solutions and by the spirit of universal conciliation. The acronym NI indicates a third way that would not be, however, the equidistant route of the known ones, but another. A balance of his political career – which he passed through two mayoralties (including that of the capital San Salvador) and the FMLN before his own candidacy – seems to reveal at the end of an undeniable dynamism of initiatives that his critics rarely lack reason in their qualms. Nor do his supporters lack reason to pay attention to him.
Not for a moment does Bukele forget to play the leading role in the change. A change delayed until now, as he insisted in this campaign, due to the hindrance of the party. He has the style of a populist leader without conservative caudillismo, he always listens to the demands that want to be satisfied first -security, gangs, recession, pandemic-, but behind always technocratic solutions emerge, agreements with the United States and multilateral credit institutions, seduction of the business community. investor through sobriety in foreign policy and ostensible fight against corruption.
Comparisons of an emerging political figure with figures from the past or a present already in a well-defined course are more useful for guessing the comparator’s intentions than for illuminating the terms of the comparison. Before the Argentine Mauricio Macri or the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, Nayib Bukele could be less distant from the also Brazilian Fernando Collor de Mello or the Panamanian Ricardo Martinelli, but to anticipate the failure of these two presidents -one resounding, the other muffled- so soon to the Salvadoran. It would seem an expression of desire rather than the result of analysis. Until now, Bukele sought justifications for his interventionism in the institutions. From now on, you do not need any, and you will not be able to look for them when it comes to frustrations or real improvements dwarfed by the memory of plans and promises, in the lack of power invoked by the two parties that are now a minority that will cost form a united opposition front.