El Salvador votes in presidential election that the ‘world’s coolest dictator’ has clear path to win

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, who is seeking re-election, shows his ballot before voting in the general election Sunday in San Salvador, El Salvador. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Salvadorans voted in presidential and legislative elections Sunday, with many expressing willingness to forego some elements of democracy if it means keeping gang violence at bay.

With soaring approval ratings and virtually no competition, Nayib Bukele was almost certainly headed for a second 5-year term as president. After voting, he jousted with reporters, asserting that the election’s results would serve as a “referendum” on his administration.


Polling places closed at 5 p.m., though people still in line were allowed to cast their ballots. Judging by previous elections, some preliminary results were expected late Sunday.

El Salvador’s constitution prohibits reelection. Nonetheless, about eight out of 10 voters support Bukele, according to a January poll from the University of Central America. That’s despite Bukele taking steps throughout his first term that lawyers and critics say chip away at the country’s system of checks and balances.

After his party was victorious in 2021 legislative elections, the newly elected congress purged the country’s constitutional court, replacing judges with loyalists. They later ruled that Bukele could run for a second term despite the constitutional ban on reelection.

Bukele’s administration has arrested more than 76,000 people since a gang crackdown began in March 2022. The massive arrests have been criticized for a lack of due process, but Salvadorans have retaken their neighborhoods long controlled by gangs.

José Dionisio Serrano, 60, was proud to be the first person in line at 6 a.m. Sunday as voters started to wait outside a school in the formerly gang-controlled neighborhood of Zacamil in Mejicanos just north of San Salvador. The soccer teacher said he planned to vote for Bukele and his party New Ideas.

“We need to keep changing, transforming,” Serrano said.

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