Opposition to popular El Salvador leader may request nullification of congressional election results

As El Salvador’s electoral body begins a vote-by-vote count of last week’s election results, the political opposition warned Wednesday they could ask to nullify results of the legislative elections due to irregularities.

No one questions the victory of highly popular President Nayib Bukele, who won re-election with 83% of the votes, but attention has been focused on the fight for the 60 seats in dispute in Congress.

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Control of Congress is crucial for Bukele. He hopes to continue to waive fundamental constitutional rights in his war against El Salvador’s gangs, which has handed him his soaring popularity, and carry out other parts of his agenda.

Bukele already declared his Nuevas Ideas party had won 58 of the 60 congressional seats following the election Sunday night, despite just a tiny fraction of the count being made public.

Now, the vote count has become a subject of scrutiny after a number of irregularities and glitches resulted in the collapse of the system transmitting results. Because of the chaos, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal called for a manual recount of the legislative election votes and part of the presidential votes.

Manuel Flores, presidential candidate of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), said he planned to speak to other opposition parties about demanding that the results of the congressional elections be nullified, and that another round of voting be carried out on March 3, when local elections are held.

“The problem is that they want to hit the number” that Bukele claimed in his victory speech on Sunday, Flores said. “Fifty-eight, but it doesn’t add up.”

Flores claimed the election was a “fraud” less than an hour into voting on Sunday, and his party is among those that remain unpopular after years of corruption and failures to deliver on their promises.

Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party’s majority in congress and a friendly court they stacked allowed him to dodge a constitutional ban on reelection. Opposition and electoral analysts also say a recent electoral reform the party carried out stacked the odds in favor of Bukele’s party, particularly in legislative and local elections.

The populist leader had already expressed concern about legislative elections. The week before Sunday’s vote, Bukele warned in a video plastered on social media and televisions across the country that if Nuevas Ideas loses seats in Congress “the opposition will be able to achieve its true and only plan, to free the gang members and use them to return to power.”

Other opposition groups like the Nuestro Tiempo party, VAMOS party and the conservative National Republican Alliance (Arena) echoed Flores’ concerns on the vote count. The parties said they were also considering asking for the results to be nullified, but were waiting from a response from the tribunal to a request they made for more information on the irregularities.

While electoral magistrate Noel Orellana said the tribunal had not yet received any requests by the parties to annul the results, their priority remains opening ballot boxes and counting all the votes.

“The most important thing now is to give an accurate count,” Orellana said.

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Final vote counting will be supervised by representatives of the political parties, electoral prosecutors from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and national and international observers, among others.