El Salvador

El Salvador's New Congress Strengthens Bukele's Grip on Power

With 54 out of 60 seats in Congress, President Nayib Bukele’s party holds significant influence over legislative decisions.


El Salvador President Nayib Bukele further solidified his grip on power with last week's inauguration of a new Congress. His party, New Ideas, now controls 90 percent of the seats, giving Bukele significant influence over legislative decisions, including potential changes to the Constitution for his reelection. 

With 54 out of 60 seats secured by New Ideas and three seats held by its allied parties, the opposition finds itself with only a marginal presence in the new Congress. The current distribution of seats empowers Bukele to push forward his ambitious agenda to "re-found" the republic. After all, his party has not opposed a single one of his proposals since 2021.  

New Ideas will no longer have to negotiate with the opposition to approve "the nation's general budget, international loans, authorize the issuance of debt, approve emergency regimes, elect the attorney general, the member of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Court of Accounts, the attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, and the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal," reports Infobae

Most concerning, New Ideas will be able to easily amend El Salvador's Constitution. 

Previously, any constitutional amendments had to be proposed and approved in one legislative term, then ratified in the subsequent Congress following elections. But that constitutional procedure was changed last week. Days before the new legislative term began, the previous Congress approved a change that would allow the legislature to make constitutional changes without having to wait for a new legislative term, requiring only a three-quarters majority vote to make the change, according to the Associated Press.

"We are not taking anything away from the Constitution, what we are doing is adapting it to the changes demanded by the new reality," Christian Guevara, leader of the New Ideas fraction in Congress, told the plenary during the vote. 

But critics remain skeptical of the congressional decision, arguing that the move could lead to Bukele's unchecked authority. "President Nayib Bukele's deputies will have the power to make constitutional changes at will, as many times as they want," wrote El Faro.

"This is a shot to the democracy of our country. The only thing they are demonstrating is the petty interests and ambition to maintain and not let go of power," Rosa Romero of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance told the A.P.

Bukele's presidency has been characterized by unconventional policy initiatives, making him one of the most popular leaders in Central America. From embracing bitcoin as legal tender to launching an aggressive crackdown on criminal gangs, his administration has garnered both acclaim and controversy. While his efforts have contributed to a remarkable decline in homicide rates and the detention of over 76,000 alleged gang members, they have also come under scrutiny for alleged human rights abuses and constitutional overreach.

Despite constitutional restrictions that limit presidents to a single five-year term, Bukele leveraged his influence to obtain approval from loyalists within the Supreme Court to pursue another term. In February, Bukele secured a landslide victory for his reelection, winning 85 percent of the vote. He declared his victory "a record in the entire democratic history of the world."

Bukele's constitutionally dubious second term is set to end in 2029. But his administration has hinted at the possibility of extending his tenure beyond his current term. With the recent consolidation of power in the new Congress and no obstacles in his way to make constitutional changes, Bukele's ambitions for an extended presidency may well materialize.