By Nelson Renteria and Diego Oré
SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Salvadorans will go to the polls on Sunday for elections to choose their president. Nayib Bukele another landslide victory, with many happy to ignore the young leader’s authoritarian drift after he crushed the gang violence crippling life across the country.
Hugely popular, Bukele, 42, campaigned on the success of his draconian security strategy which saw authorities suspend civil liberties to arrest thousands of suspected gang members without charge. The detentions led to a collapse in the nationwide murder rate and transformed this poor Central American country that was once one of the most dangerous in the world.
Polls show that most voters now appear ready to reward Bukele for decimating criminal groups that have made life intolerable for El Salvador’s 6.3 million residents and fueled waves of migration to the United States.
“I would vote for Bukele because of the work he has done so far,” said Juan Carlos Rosales, 44, a systems engineer in San Salvador, the capital. “The improvement in safety is palpable.”
A firebrand politician who often spars with foreign leaders and enemies on social media, Bukele came to power in 2019, defeating El Salvador’s traditional parties with promises to eliminate gang violence and rejuvenate the stagnant economy from the country.
Since then, he has used his New Ideas party’s vast majority in the Legislature to reshape courts and institutions, strengthening his grip on key parts of government. He also defended the introduction of Bitcoin as legal tender, drawing criticism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Bukele is expected to be the first Salvadoran president to be re-elected in more than 100 years. Last year, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowed him to run for a second term, even though the country’s constitution prohibits it. Opponents have expressed fears that Bukele is seeking to rule for life, following President Daniel Ortega of neighboring Nicaragua.
Rights groups have warned that democracy in El Salvador is…