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When change meets trouble

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El Salvador presidential candidate Nayib Bukele of the Great National Alliance (GANA) speaks to the media after declaring victory in the presidential election in San Salvador on February 3, 2019. – Nayib Bukele, the popular former mayor of San Salvador, claimed victory on February 3 in the Central American country’s presidential elections. (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS / AFP)


Nayib Bukele (Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez) is a millionaire owner of Yamaha Motors of El Salvador. His father is a businessman of Palestinian descent and imam of a local mosque in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador in Central America. His mother is a Christian while he is a Roman Catholic.

On February 3, 2019 Nayib Bukele was elected president of El Salvador and he assumes the presidency on June 1, 2019, a month before his 37th birthday. His victory has hit the country like one of those volcanic eruptions for which the country is famous. But will he be able to deliver?

El Salvador was occupied by the Spaniards in the 1550s during which they almost wiped out the native population. Those who survived were sidelined into isolated villages. The country won its independence from Spain in 1821. Recent history has been plagued by poverty, corruption, insecurity, impunity and gang violence. After a 12-year civil war that followed a half century of military rule, democracy was restored in 1992. Between then and now two parties have alternated ruling El Salvador ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance) a right wing party and FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) the civil war guerrilla group that turned to a political party. Under the two parties the country was reduced to poverty, destroyed by corruption and terrorised by gangs and wearied by the impunity of a thieving political class.

Two of Nayib Bukele’s predecessors have been investigated for embezzling millions from public coffers. Mauricio Funes was President from 2009 to 2014. He was accused of embezzling $351 million and warrants of arrest were issued against him in September 2016. He fled to Nicaragua where he is in exile. Antonio Saca Who was President from 2004 to 2009 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzlement and money laundering plus he must return $260 million to the state.

Nayib Bukele himself has questions to answer about tax evasion as well as money laundering while mayor of San Salvador. El Salvador suffers from deficient tax collection. The president-elect campaigned on anti-corruption platform. He insisted that he would not lie, he would not steal and he would not betray the country. He insisted that “there’s enough money when no one steals.” He promised to set up an International Organisation against Impunity (Corruption) as in Guatemala and Honduras, in El Salvador to be supervised by the United Nations and Central America.

“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.” He has detailed plans to deal with the economy in terms of employment, relevant education at all levels and the devastated infrastructure. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, the last one was of 7.9 magnitude, and floods and land slides consequent on these natural disasters have wiped out much of the infrastructure of the country of six point five million people.

What would he do about gangs? These have become prominent in the creation of country wide violence and drug distribution. Criminal activities of kidnapping and murder have placed El Salvador high on the gun to murder statistics of the world. The two older political parties, which had ruled the country for almost three decades seem to treat these gangs as having political clout capable of delivering votes. Did they help Nayib Bukele in his land slide victory? He won 54% of the vote in the first run ensuring that there is no need for a re-run election. But will he be able to deliver on his promises to the electorate?

In a parliament of 84 legislators, his coalition GANA (Grand Alliance for National Unity) has 10 legislators. ARENA has 37 while FMLN has 23. The remaining 14 belong to three other parties and 1 independent. During the campaign Nayib Bukele refused to participate in the presidential debates. He preferred to address his followers through Twitter and Facebook live encounters. How is he going to get his legislation through parliament?

Although Nayib Bukele claims to belong to the radical left he was expelled from FMLN for reasons many find difficult to specify. He had been critical of the leadership of the party and he is reported as calling one of them, a woman, a witch. The president-elect faces a possible trial for this in a court for the protection of women from abuse. If he cannot depend on his former allies on the left on whom can he depend to do what needs to be done in El Salvador?

One of the challenges of the country is the number of Salvadorians making for the US-Mexico border hoping to get into the United States of America illegally. It is journey through Guatemala and Mexico. As a result, the US President has promised to stop aid to El Salvador if they do not “do more to curb migration to the United States of America.”

Nayib Bukele is coming to the Salvadorian presidency as an outsider. After he was expelled from the FMLN in 2017 while he was mayor of the capital city of the country El Salvador, he formed his own party New Ideas but he could not register the party. Then he joined a left leaning party, which was de-registered for scoring low votes in a previous election. On a third try he joined GANA which also means ‘win’ in Spanish. He changed the parties colour to baby blue and replaced its symbol with a white swallow.

To further the image of the outsider, Nayib Bukele has repudiated Latin America’s traditional left “branding Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega as well as conservative Honduran Juan Orlando Hernandez as dictators.” “A dictator is a dictator, on the ‘right’ or the ‘left’” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

There is the possibility of polarisation between Congress and the President. The FMLN government which will hand over to him on June 1st will be uncooperative, perhaps only at the beginning. Both ARENA and FMLN conceded defeat and congratulated the president-elect.There was joy on the streets of San Salvador on the day of his victory. “If we voted for him, it’s because we want something new – to have a different country,” said a cook in a restaurant on the street. Will they get a new country?
bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng


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