President Nayib Bukele won reelection with a landslide victory yesterday in El Salvador, while his Nuevas Ideas party dominated the congressional elections, nearly wiping out the opposition. I write that with certainty even though I turned in the draft of this column last week and the revisions were done before the election results were announced. There was no need for an alternate version of this column in case Bukele loses, because his victory was predetermined. And that is a potential problem for El Salvador’s democracy and the hemisphere.
The past three decades of Latin American history are full of presidents who stretched the constitutional limits of power and extended their mandate: Carlos Menem in Argentina, Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. All were elected democratically. All modified or bent the rules to run for a second term that would not have been allowed when they were first elected. All won that first reelection due to their massive popularity. And most, but not all, left their country worse than they found it, damaging their legacy.
Bukele’s name can now be added to that list. Having won an unconstitutional second term, his legacy depends on what happens in the coming five years.