June 7, 2019 / 1:15 AM / 14 days ago

New president of El Salvador wields his power via Twitter, firing officials

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - As Nayib Bukele waged an underdog bid for the presidency of El Salvador, savvy use of social media helped propel his rise.

FILE PHOTO: New Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele participates in his first cabinet council in San Salvador, El Salvador June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

Now, in his first week in office, some officials in the Central American country are reeling from the power of the presidential tweet.

The 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador, who was sworn in on Saturday, has taken some of his first actions in office via Twitter, including giving officials the ax.

His targets so far have included relatives of former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén and figures from the outgoing political party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

“CEL President William Granadino is ordered to remove Claudia Sánchez Villalta, daughter of former President Sánchez Cerén, from her position,” he wrote in one such post on Tuesday, addressing the president of the country’s hydroelectric energy commission. “Do not hire a replacement.”

Bukele, an avid social media user with more than 700,000 Twitter followers, has fired several other officials via tweet.

Some of the dismissed have responded to the millennial head of state in kind, with tweets such as, “Your order will be executed immediately, President @nayibbukele.”

While some of Bukele’s supporters have cheered the new form of presidential communication, his opponents on the right and the left describe the practice as autocratic.

“This is not a monarchy,” Norman Quijano, the right-wing president of the Salvadoran congress, told reporters. “The absolutist monarchies were a thing of the Middle Ages and we are in the 21st century, where institutionality must be respected.”

A presidential spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Luis Assardo, a journalist and researcher based in Guatemala, said Bukele is embracing Twitter to gain recognition and speak directly to everyday Salvadorans.

“He does not need the press,” Assardo said. “He does not need any kind of intermediary to deliver the information that interests him.”

It echoes the approach of U.S. President Donald Trump, who communicates to his Republican Party base daily via Twitter and has also fired some officials via tweet.

Trump, perhaps recognizing another Twitter fan, sent the following tweet on Saturday: “The United States stands ready to work with @NayibBukele to advance prosperity in El Salvador and the hemisphere. Congratulations President Bukele on your inauguration!”

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; writing by Julia Love; editing by Grant McCool

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