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article imageEl Salvador's Bukele looks set to increase power with allies ahead in polls

By Marco SIBAJA, Carlos Mario MARQUEZ (AFP)     Feb 28, 2021 in World

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele looked set to increase his power as his allies took a clear lead in legislative elections, according to preliminary results early Monday.

"Victory," Bukele tweeted in anticipation of a win, along with a video of fireworks in the capital San Salvador.

The New Ideas party, founded by Bukele and contesting an election for the first time, together with the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), through which he came to power, had more than half the votes according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), with 64 percent of ballots counted after Sunday's elections.

The official count will only begin on Tuesday, where it will be determined how many of the 84 seats in Congress each party will take, a TSE source told AFP.

Bukele also shared results of an exit poll by Costa Rican firm Cid Gallup which gave New Ideas a large majority in parliament, with more than 67 percent of the vote, although technical details of the survey were not released.

"New Ideas + GANA will have more than 60 deputies (...) Thank you to the Salvadoran people. Thank God," he tweeted.

If the results are confirmed, Bukele could fulfill his objective of winning an absolute majority in parliament, which would give the president more power over crucial decisions and lawmaking.

Bukele, accused of authoritarianism by his detractors, hopes to have his hands untied after a frustrating two years of blockages by an opposition-controlled parliament.

Opinion polls have projected victory for his two allied parties.

Long queues of voters wearing face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic formed well before voting started, though many stations opened hours late.

President Bukele's allies were in the lead according to partial results after Sunday's ele...
President Bukele's allies were in the lead according to partial results after Sunday's election

The delay prompted Bukele to level accusations of wrongdoing against the TSE on Twitter.

"We told them 1,000 times that, whether through corruption or incompetence, they would do everything wrong," he said.

But an election observer told AFP he had seen no evidence of voter fraud.

About 40,000 police, soldiers and international observers were deployed to oversee the balloting, which came after the worst political violence in years claimed two lives last month.

After polls closed, the Organization of American States described election day as peaceful.

TSE president Dora Martinez said 51 percent of the country's 5.4 million voters had taken part in the polls to elect 84 members of the Legislative Assembly from among 10 political parties.

Elected in 2019 for a five-year term, Bukele, who is 39 and is of Palestinian and Greek descent, has had trouble getting some programs approved in a parliament dominated by two opposition parties -- the right-wing Arena and leftist FMLN.

- 'Authoritarianism' -

In February 2020, in a bid to intimidate MPs into approving a loan to finance an anti-crime plan, the president ordered heavily armed police and soldiers to storm parliament.

When lawmakers recently called for a congressional committee to declare Bukele "mentally incapable" of governing, he denounced it as an "attempted parliamentary coup."

Since a peace deal in 1992 brought an end to more than a decade of civil war, no party has won an absolute majority in parliament.

If Bukele does so, he would be able to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and the public prosecutor's office -- institutions with which he has clashed.

Polls predict victory for Bukele backers in the vote for 262 mayors and for El Salvador's 20 representatives to the six-nation Central American Parliament.

The outgoing president of El Salvador's parliament, Mario Ponce, warned against creeping "authoritarianism" ahead of the election, while Bukele broke electoral rules in campaigning for his party beyond the cut-off date.

The Catholic Church's Episcopal Conference of El Salvador denounced pre-election violence, which saw two FMLN activists shot dead while campaigning in late January, days after Bukele criticized the 1992 peace accords.

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