My way

Salvadorans nervous as Executive seeks to reform the Constitution without due consultation.

Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, presented a proposal for the reform of the Constitution with the aim of extending the presidential term and increasing presidential powers to replace the Supreme Electoral Court. The plan includes 215 new measures and has the potential to change powers of the Constitutional Chamber, the Supreme Court and the general prosecutor’s office.

A former public official despaired, “We are witnessing a political persecution like we have never had before in El Salvador and at the same time, the government is consolidating an authoritarian regime, the likes of which we have not seen for 200 years.”

“We are witnessing a political persecution like we have never had before in El Salvador and at the same time, the government is consolidating an authoritarian regime.”

Former public official, El Salvador

The proposal will be the first major reform of the 1983 Constitution and it mainly focuses on social and political rights, pushing economic reforms to the background. Despite the lack of detailed knowledge in relation to most measures, international investors are sceptical about Bukele’s ambitions and have shown their reluctancy to extend presidential terms.

A local political scientist expressed concern, “More than 75% of the articles of the current Constitution will be reformed, although some changes are not substantive, none of the major changes have gone through any kind of consultation process. The reforms will go straight to the Legislative Assembly and we don’t know what will come out of there. What is clear is that the spirit of the Constitution will move from being based on citizen freedom to consolidating power in the Executive.”

“What is clear is that the spirit of the Constitution will move from being based on citizen freedom to consolidating power in the Executive.”

Political scientist, El Salvador

Confidence from international investors is key for the Salvadorian government as the country continues to struggle as a result of a severe economic contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank expected the El Salvador’s GDP to contract by 8.3% in 2020 at a time when the government is increasingly reliant on domestic short-term borrowing to meet its financing needs. Multilateral funding, remittances and exports will be crucial for the country’s economic recovery.

Aware of the importance of international support, the government has scheduled meetings between its legal team and international correspondents, diplomatic corps, academics and civil society organisations to discuss the reform plan. The Constitutional Reform Commission, led by Vice President Félix Ulloa, will deliver the plan to Bukele on 15 September who will evaluate the plan before sending it to Congress, where his allies hold a large majority. Although approval is almost granted, many civil rights groups have criticised the top-down approach of the initiative, seen by opposition parties as a strategy of government propaganda lacking in political plurality.

So, given all of the above, you would not expect the government to start a cryptocurrency experiment, but they are, and people are worried. A former economics professor highlights, “The biggest risk facing El Salvador is the de-dollarisation of the monetary system. The government has promised that the conversion between bitcoin and the dollar will be automatic, but that doesn’t seem sustainable. Public officials might even be paid in bitcoin, it’s going to put people’s emotional stability at risk.”

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