President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador occupied the legislative chamber with dozens of military officers Sunday, in a show of military power. These actions threatened the separation of powers in the country and further solidified his role in the erosion of El Salvador’s democracy.
Since being elected president Bukele has shown several signs of being a political demagogue. According to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their book How Democracies Die , political demagogues can be identified through four indicators
1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game
2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
3. Toleration or encouragement of violence
4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media
Bukele can be tied to several of the indicators throughout his young precedency. He has refused to give interviews or participate in debates, according to Reuters. He has continuously criticized his opposition as corrupt politicians as well as calling them scoundrels, according to Aljazeera. And he has warned the legislators that he could “press the button,” or stage a coup, if he wanted to, according to the Associated Press. Bukele’s disdain towards established democratic institutions has presented him as a political demagogue, a demagogue that is eroding the El Salvadorian democracy.
For democratic erosion to take place these demagogues must be elected. Bukele’s campaign and election showed signs of \eroding democracy. Bukele was the first president to be elected without belonging to either of the major parties that have dominated the precedency following the 12-year civil war. Initially a member of one of the parties, he was expelled for promoting internal division. Following expulsion he wished to run as an independent, however, his bid was blocked by both of the ruling parties. Leading up to the election the ruling parties followed Levitsky and Ziblatt’s methods of preventing legitimacy by “root[ing] out extremists in the grassroots of their own ranks” and “join[ing] with opponents ideologically distant but committed to the survival of the democratic political order” (25). However, these attempts failed as he was given legitimacy when he joined the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party and with this legitimacy later won the election.
Despite El Salvador’s democracy eroding all throughout Bukele’s tenure as president, Sunday’s actions have pushed it to a breaking point. Employing the tactics of Ozan Varol’s, Stealth Authoritarianism , Bukele used constitutional means to achieve undemocratic means. In an attempt to get the countries legislators to approve a $109m loan for his security plan, Bukele called the country’s legislators to an emergency session. He utilized Article 167 of the country’s constitution, which says the president can convene the country’s national assembly extraordinarily “when the interests of the Republic demand it.” This was immediately contested as unconstitutional by the opposition, however, the supreme court allowed it, warning Bukele to “not exceed constitutional and legal jurisdiction.” This pushing of the constitution to its limit is exactly what Varol warns of when writing about stealth authoritarianism. Furthermore, speaking to a crowd outside of the legislator, Bukele invoked Article 87 of the Constitution, which refers to the people’s right to insurrection. Again using a constitutional means to threaten his opposition. Bukele’s actions Sunday received criticism from internal human rights groups who said the president’s actions threaten the balance of separation of powers in the country. As well as the international community, “The Salvadoran military should not be used to resolve disputes between the president and congress,” said Congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Bukele’s rise as a political demagogue has quickly eroded an already fragile democracy. Sunday marks an important date in the country’s history as what follows in the coming weeks and elections may define the future of democracy in El Salvador. Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. (2018). How Democracies Die. New Yourk: Crown.  Linz, Juan J & Alfred Stepan. (1978). Johns Hopkins University Press.  Varol, Ozan. (2015). Stealth Authoritarianism. Iowa Law Review.
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