SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The party of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is expected to win a sweeping victory in Sunday’s legislative and municipal elections, stoking the opposition’s fears that Bukele could consolidate his control.
Opinion polls show Bukele’s new party, New Ideas, and its allies will win between 43 and 56 out of a possible 84 seats. A simple majority would give the ruling party the power to propose constitutional changes. A two-thirds majority would allow it to appoint high-level government officials, such as the attorney general and five of the 15 Supreme Court justices.
Bukele, a 39-year-old publicist and city mayor, took office in 2019 promising to root out corruption and upend the two-party politics that has dominated since the end of the civil war in 1992.
Bukele has been limited by his weak presence in Congress, with only 10 seats held by the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), the party that backed his presidential bid.
The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) has the most with 37 lawmakers followed by the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
Bukele has clashed with both the legislature and the Supreme Court. During the coronavirus pandemic, his government clamped down on public information requests and, in defiance of the judicial branch, authorized security forces to use lethal force while carrying out official duties.
Bukele’s opponents are worried that he will further consolidate power if he wins a congressional majority. Bukele says his rivals are fearful because his policies threaten their privileges.
The president has won popular backing by almost halving homicides in the violence-plagued Central American nation last year, as well as by providing families with food and economic support to alleviate the impacts of the pandemic.
“Nayib Bukele knows how to manage his government. As we know, no person is perfect: he has had his pros and cons, but he has managed to take care of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Emilio Martinez, 20, a student in San Salvador.
For Omar Serrano, political analyst at Central American University in El Salvador, the election is consequential for the future of the nation of 6.4 million people that has struggled to build democracy after the coups and war of the 1970s and 1980s.
“What we are going to decide on Sunday is whether to deepen democracy or return to absolute power, focused on the ... president,” he said.
Tensions between the legislative and the executive branch flared in February 2020, when Bukele brought armed soldiers into the Congress to pressure lawmakers to approve a $109 million loan to finance a plan to combat powerful gangs. The relationship worsened in November after lawmakers accused Bukele’s government of corruption in managing public funds, including for health care.
Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, writing by Laura Gottesdiener; editing by Grant McCool
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