Foto: tomada red social Instagram.

President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, declared himself reelected without official data, hours after the elections ended, the TSE declared the counts conducted as failed.

By Nancy Hernández


Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador, declared himself the winner of the presidential elections held on February 4th, even without official data from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). On his X account, he posted: «According to our numbers, we have won the presidential election with more than 85% of the votes and a minimum of 58 out of 60 Assembly deputies.»

However, hours after the polls closed, the collegiate body declared the counts conducted on the night of February 4th and the early morning of February 5th as failed. Therefore, 100% of the legislative election ballot boxes will be recounted vote by vote, as well as 29% of the presidential ones.

The political opposition in El Salvador has pointed out irregularities in the election process, including the late or non-delivery of credentials to members of Voting Reception Boards (JRV), the closure of polling centers abroad leaving numerous citizens unable to exercise their right to vote, and the delayed delivery of computer equipment to the JRVs, internet failures, and power outages during the count.

In addition, the San Salvador Departmental Electoral Board (JED) clarified to the TSE and political parties that it did not receive any electoral package after the preliminary count, and by midday on Monday, the electoral packages had not been delivered for deposit.

Bukele: electoral controversies in El Salvador

One of the highlighted events of election day was the detention of Salvadoran-Canadian writer Carlos Busio Borja, after reading aloud an article of the Constitution at a polling station in the capital. In response, the UCA Human Rights Institute (Idhuca) demanded his release, arguing that freedom of thought and expression should not be penalized with arbitrary detentions.

Among the key factors that led to Bukele’s reelection is the controversial Exception Regime, approved by the legislative plenary on March 27, 2022, within the framework of the Territorial Control Plan (PCT), the spearhead of the current government’s security strategy, through which more than 72,000 alleged gang members have been captured.

However, the suspension of constitutional rights and guarantees in capture processes and the lack of a due process in accordance with established laws have led social organizations in the country to register nearly 5,600 victims who have suffered serious human rights violations and nearly 200 deaths in prisons due to lack of attention.

Without answers

Jonathan Santos is a young man who, according to his relatives, is one of those victims who were captured by the military without justified cause under the Exception Regime.

«I was one of those who trusted that the regime was fighting criminals, but it’s not like that,» says Reynaldo Santos, the young man’s father. He voted for Nayib Bukele in the 2019 presidential elections, but his electoral decision changed this February 4th.

After desperately seeking help for his son, Reynaldo became part of the families that make up the Victims of the Regime Movement (MOVIR). His son was arrested on December 26, 2022, months after the law was approved.

Read also: The drama of the missing in El Salvador: a look at the numbers and the drama that consumes many families

Jonathan Santos, according to his father, worked as a quality auditor in a maquila located in a municipality in the east of the Salvadoran capital, had no criminal record, nor did he belong to any of the gangs operating in the country.

«We have never had any connection with gangs, just living in a high-risk area, that’s it, the only thing we learned was to survive,» Reynaldo Santos affirmed.

The impact of the Exception Regime in El Salvador

That social situation in which young people were involved, where if they refused to join a gang they were murdered or displaced, changed with the Exception Regime, which led the State to take on the role of oppressor, according to Leonor Arteaga, program director for the Due Process Foundation.

Arteaga asserts that, in the eagerness to achieve absolute control and the functioning of the exception regime, the government has shown little interest in protecting the rights of citizens, especially the most vulnerable. Additionally, she pointed out that the phenomenon of forced disappearances by Salvadoran authorities should concern society and organizations.

«Once again, the State is acting in a coordinated manner to make people disappear. The police capture them, the prosecutors say nothing, the judges say nothing, they take them to the Prisons, the people from the Prisons say nothing. They torture, they kill them, they hide the corpses. So we are seeing the resurgence of forced disappearances,» Arteaga warned.

Unjustified detention

Jonathan’s detention is described as a repressive action by Salvadoran authorities, since, according to his father, a couple of police officers dressed without their ONI (Institutional Numeric Order), entered their home, searched bedrooms, asked for the young man’s and mother’s identification documents, and despite not finding reasons for an arrest, they carried out a series of unusual maneuvers until they decided to proceed with the detention.

«One of them (a police officer) takes out his phone and makes a call, then he comes and as if cancels the call and says he’s going to be detained. He comes and asks the mom what the reason is, because to begin with, he hadn’t found anything illicit inside the house, not even on the phones or the data that I suppose they handle in the DUI (Unique Document of Identity). So, she told him she was not going to allow that, but they told her that if she opposed, they would take both of them away, and that changed everything,» commented the father.

Among the modalities implemented during the Exception Regime to detect offenses by alleged gang members, are the search according to the person’s DUI in a database where the Police register whether the citizen belongs to a criminal organization or not, in addition, the law also allows police and military personnel to review people’s phones in search of evidence.

Between uncertainty and injustice

Since the moment of the arrest, the Santos spouses have not seen or spoken directly with their son again, since those detained by the exception regime are completely cut off from contact with relatives and chances of due process.

«From that date until today, it’s been almost a year with 40 days that I don’t know his health condition, if he’s alive. I don’t know anything,» said Reynaldo, who also detailed that judges have not considered a series of evidence collected by the family and private lawyers that can prove his son’s innocence.

Bukele’s government: between popular mandate and democratic criticisms

The Salvadoran citizen is clear that this type of government action undermines democracy since entire families have suffered firsthand from the repressive actions of security forces.

«We would have to be masochists (to vote for Bukele), not to have love for our relatives who are there. I say no because look at what it has caused us, it has changed our lives economically, morally, and socially because sometimes we are also discriminated against because people, even those who don’t know us, believe that we are relatives of gang members and we are not. I can tell you that almost all of us have also been victims of them, in one way or another,» he declared.

The Rule of Law, defined as the regime characteristic of democratic societies in which the Constitution guarantees freedom, fundamental rights, the separation of powers, the principle of legality, and judicial protection against arbitrary use of power, is precisely what, according to jurists and civil society leaders, has been lost with the exception regime and even with the recent democratic process, which according to various voices violated the constitutional mandate.

Lack of respect

According to Eduardo Escobar, director of the organization Acción Ciudadana, the last election became a «break with over 90 years of tradition in El Salvador» since reelection had not been contemplated in the country’s young democracy. «The issue of alternation in the exercise of the Presidency had been respected, so this would be (is) something unprecedented,» he emphasized. Some constitutionalists affirm that at least six articles of the Constitution prohibit immediate reelection.

Furthermore, he stated that in previous administrations, albeit slowly, progress was made in consolidating the Rule of Law with respect to the separation of powers, guaranteeing democratic exercise and freedoms.

«In the broad sense of the Rule of Law, it no longer exists, and in fact, we could even question if it has ever existed in El Salvador,» he concluded.

This opinion is shared by representatives of opposition political parties who affirm that it has not been a fair process because the government has managed to shape secondary laws that favor it in an electoral contest, in addition to various irregularities that occurred from the beginning, in the process carried out by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

Bukele: Critical Voices of the Electoral Process

Joel Sánchez, former presidential candidate for the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) party, stated that irregularities were reported to the TSE, but they were ignored due to the lack of independence of the body.

«It is important to denounce that everything happened in a rather rushed manner. I think the Supreme Electoral Tribunal leaves us with a lot of bad tastes; I believe that in that silence, it does not allow us to establish its institutional nature. We would have liked to have a TSE a bit more above the situation, addressing the complaints, solving the grievances, but we see it as very passive, very silent, and it really draws our attention. What we do not want is for a dictatorship to be established, what we do not want is for the Constitution to be violated, what we do not want is to have an illegal candidate,» he said.

On his part, Luis Parada, former presidential candidate for the Nuestro Tiempo party, criticized that Bukele appeared on the ballot papers since, as he interprets, he is the president of the Republic.

«The biggest irregularity in this election is that a candidate who is the president of the Republic appears on the ballot paper, who has held the presidency for more than six months, therefore he should not have been registered as a candidate; therefore, he is an unconstitutional candidate, that is the biggest irregularity,» he pointed out.

The role of the international community in the elections of El Salvador

The politician went further by stating that «This is the most important election in the history of El Salvador because it is not only deciding who will be the president but what model of country El Salvador will be. Will it be a democracy under a Constitution with respect to laws, dignity, and rights of the people or will it be a dictatorship under the boot of a dictator,» he criticized.

Meanwhile, Óscar Ortiz, general secretary of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), stated that the current elections were a bad precedent for El Salvador’s democracy because, since the Peace Accords, they are the elections with the «greatest violation of institutionalism.»

«It is very clear that reelection cannot be and it is one of the essential rules that has been safeguarded, even when the country has not enjoyed minimum democratic conditions,» he said.

The opposition political class pointed out that it is impossible to fight against the «flawed» political process that is taking place in El Salvador since international organizations that have the capacity to pressure the current government’s actions in terms of security and electoral matters act with tepidity and disinterest.

According to Escobar, the passive stance of the international community responds to diplomatic and political interests since there are tools and processes in international law that could be applied to El Salvador, such as Article 20 of the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), which establishes the suspension of participation of any State in all the organization’s instances.


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