Mon, Feb 04, 2019 - Page 5 News List

El Salvador votes for new president

‘EXCELLENT PERSON’:Nayib Bukele was expected to win the election on his anti-corruption platform and has branded three fellow Latin American leaders dictators

Reuters, SAN SALVADOR

Electoral workers check a polling station at the International Fairs and Convention Center in San Salvador on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Salvadoreans yesterday headed to polls in the first round of a presidential election, with an energetic former mayor campaigning as an anti-corruption outsider set to win the top job and end decades of a two-party system.

Nayib Bukele, 37, has capitalized on the anti-establishment feeling sweeping elections across the region and further afield, as voters seek an alternative to traditional parties.

Since the end of a bloody civil war in 1992, El Salvador has been governed by just two parties: ruling leftists the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), and its rival, the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena).

Although he describes himself as from the left, and was expelled from the Front, Bukele has formed a coalition with parties including a right-wing one who together have just 11 seats in the legislature.

Pollster Mitofsky said in a poll last month that Bukele had 57 percent of voter support, while a poll by Gallup showed him with 42 percent.

Both polls showed Arena’s Carlos Calleja in second place.

If no candidate wins more than half of the vote, two candidates would pass into a runoff to be held next month.

El Salvador’s next president would face US President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks against Central American governments for not doing enough to prevent migration and have to manage US backlash to recently established diplomatic relations with China.

The new government would also have to try to kick-start a sluggish economy, combat corruption and tackle one of the highest rates of homicide in the world.

“Nayib is an excellent person and the proposals he has are pretty excellent,” said Maria Amaya, a 42-year-old housewife who said she previously voted for the Front. “We’re fed up of so much corruption, the Front and Arena had their time to do something and they didn’t.”

Bukele, who was mayor of San Salvador from 2015 to last year, has said he wants to create an international anti-corruption commission with the support of the UN, following similar schemes in Guatemala and Honduras.

“We’ll create a [commission] ... so that the corrupt can’t hide where they always hide, instead they’ll have to give back what they stole,” Bukele said in last month.

The country of 6 million people ranked 105 in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, alongside Brazil, which elected far-right President Jair Bolsonaro last year on a similar anti-corruption platform.

Bukele, who slicks back his hair and often sports a backwards baseball cap, has a large social media following, uses Facebook Live for official announcements and challenges opponents on Twitter.

Growing up, Bukele’s relatively wealthy family were sympathetic to the Front, the former leftist guerrilla army that became a political party at the end of the civil war in 1992.

However, Bukele has turned away from Latin America’s traditional left, branding Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as well as Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez dictators.

“A dictator is a dictator, on the ‘right’ or the ‘left,’” Bukele tweeted last week.

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