WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

1 Mar 2021 | Press Release

After El Salvador’s Legislative Elections, Government Must Respect Rule of Law and Separation of Powers

Washington, D.C.—On Sunday, February 28, Salvadorans took to the polls to elect the country’s next legislative assembly and municipal governments. Highly favored in the electoral polls leading up to the election was the political party Nuevas Ideas, allied with President Nayib Bukele. Unsurprisingly, as of early Monday morning with over 80 percent of votes counted, the results reflect a significant tilt in favor of Bukele and Nuevas Ideas.  

Bukele is the first president elected since the 1980s not to represent one of the major political parties ARENA and FMLN. His presidency has been marked by conflict with the opposition parties that held the legislative majority and had constrained presidential initiatives. Bukele’s presidency has also seen repeated conflict with the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber, which has ruled a number of presidential actions unconstitutional. This check on power and the resulting clashes have been particularly sharp over the last year, as the executive has sought to concentrate power and undermine rule of law and democracy.

It was originally expected that Nuevas Ideas and GANA would need to form a coalition in order to obtain a decisive majority in the National Assembly; however, current projections suggest Nuevas Ideas may not need GANA. This majority will allow Nuevas Ideas to leverage major influence over naming and electing people to powerful positions—including the attorney general and Supreme Court magistrates. This legislative majority will also have a powerful influence over the country’s commitment to upholding the rule of law, strengthening anti corruption efforts, and protecting human rights. 

WOLA President Geoff Thale issued the following quote in response to these developments:  

“Upholding the independence of the legislative and judicial branches of government, and their ability to check executive power, will be a critical issue in El Salvador following these elections. President Bukele and his allies in the National Assembly must not abuse their power to undermine the independence of the courts and other bodies that protect the rule of law, fight corruption, and defend human rights. This is an urgent issue, especially given the recent killings of political activists, rhetoric that has polarized political groups and stoked hatred, and other actions that have undermined the rule of law.

“The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court and the National Assembly have a critical role in maintaining balance and ensuring the separation of powers. It is of the utmost importance that those who hold powerful positions in El Salvador’s political and judicial landscape are elected based on their merit and that they remain independent of political pressures. Regardless of the results of this election, the need for the government of El Salvador to strengthen rule of law, democratic governance, and its commitment to justice and human rights continues to be critical.”