Constitutional reform in El Salvador: the backward step of democracy in the hands of Bukele

Constitutional reform in El Salvador: the backward step of democracy in the hands of Bukele

Published on 29 May 2024

Fewer legislative controls and greater controversy

The powers surrounding the figure of Nayib Bukele are growing. Following the manual of most authoritarian leaders in the region, the recently reelected president of El Salvador seeks to modify the constitution to his liking and without major inconveniences. To this end, on April 29, the Salvadoran Assembly, which was coming out of its term, approved a modification of Article 248 of the Constitution, facilitating changes without the need for a ratification process by a second legislature.

 

With 66 votes in favor and 16 against, this change was approved without prior study or analysis, and with the criticism of national and international organizations that look askance at how Bukele seeks to accumulate more and more power. 

 

While this was happening, the issue gained prominence in social networks, with independent media denouncing the implications of such a reform for the fundamental rights of the Central American country.  

 

What is being reformed in the constitution?

 

The reform of the Constitution of El Salvador allows the same legislature to approve and ratify constitutional changes with a three-quarters majority, which in practice eliminates the “padlock” that protected the Constitution from rapid modifications without consensus.

 

Article 248 established that any change to the Constitution had to be approved by one legislature and then confirmed by a second, with a popular election in between. This provision was intended to ensure that constitutional reforms were carefully considered and received the support of the electorate.

 

As established by the Constitutional Chamber, any changes to the Constitution had to be clearly presented by the candidates during their political campaigns, so that citizens would be aware of the intentions of their representatives and could vote accordingly. However, the recent reform allows a single legislature to approve and ratify constitutional amendments with the vote of three quarters of the elected deputies.

 

The reform to the article was not consulted with the population, depriving them of their voice in the decision on constitutional modifications. Now, it is only the deputies who have the power to make these decisions, leaving the population without direct influence in the process.

 

What are the implications and criticisms?

 

For now, the new Assembly, which began its term on May 1, is authorized to make far-reaching changes, such as allowing the indefinite reelection of the president, extending the terms of any official in power, or even eliminating some citizens’ rights.

 

The maneuver has been criticized by various national and international organizations, which warn of the danger of a greater concentration of power in the hands of President Bukele and his party, Nuevas Ideas (NI). 

 

With 54 of the 60 seats in the new Legislative Assembly, the ruling party has the ability to make significant constitutional changes without effective opposition.

 

Christian Guevara, head of the New Ideas faction, defended the reform arguing that it simply adds one more option to article 248 without altering the rules of the game. However, the opposition and legal experts consider this justification to be misleading, as it facilitates constitutional changes without the checks and balances previously established.

 

Congresswoman Claudia Ortiz of the Vamos party, one of the few opposition voices in the new Assembly, pointed out that the reform opens the door to profound changes in the structure of the State, including fundamental rights, the economic regime and the form of access to power. Ortiz expressed concern about the potential to modify fundamental elements of government quickly and without due process.

 

What is being talked about in social media

 

To find out what was being talked about the constitutional reform in El Salvador, ProBox Digital Observatory conducted a social listening project on various digital platforms. 

 

During the period between April 20 and May 20, 2024, a total of 666 mentions related to constitutional issues were recorded in the Central American country. This project, focused on key words linked to the Salvadoran context, made it possible to analyze the perception and debates generated around the constitutional reform.

 

Facebook was the most used platform to discuss the reform, representing approximately 97.3% of the mentions, which reflects the relevance of this social network in the context of El Salvador for the expression of opinions and political debates. While Instagram and X (Twitter formerly) have a lower interaction with 1.65% and 1.05% of the mentions, respectively.

 

A detailed analysis of these mentions revealed that May 6 was the day with the highest activity on social networks, with a total of 203 mentions on the topic of constitutional reform in El Salvador. 

 

 

The date became relevant when the changes, which had initially generated debate within the country, transcended to the international arena thanks to the concern expressed by NGOs such as Amnesty International about possible human rights violations. 

 

In addition, around May 6, different media outlets in other nations such as Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Central America gave coverage to the constitutional reform, which further intensified the debate, both locally and internationally.

 

Within the mentions registered, diverse concerns and perspectives from the Salvadoran society were identified. Some users expressed their support for the constitutional reform, arguing the need to adapt the Magna Carta to current social and political changes. Others, on the other hand, expressed their opposition, warning of possible risks to democracy and fundamental rights.

 

 

Within the framework of this conversation, the main accounts that generated the most mentions regarding the topic were the media opposing Nayib Bukele with the following publications. In first place, El Faro generated 19 mentions that generated 8,553,496 impressions. Then, Radio YSUCA 91.7 FM followed with 17 mentions about the constitutional reform, which generated 264,197 impressions through its publications. Likewise, the account of La Prensa Gráfica generated 13 mentions on this topic with more than 24,708,840 impressions. 

 

 

The setbacks in human rights, especially civil and political rights, that El Salvador has registered in the last five years are alarming. The denunciation through social media platforms and the sustained analysis of the context of Bukele’s reforms generates a more comprehensive vision of how an issue that compromises democracy and fundamental freedoms in the Central American country is being addressed. 

 

For more information on socio-political manipulation online you can follow us on social media as @ProBoxVe 

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