Voters in El Salvador appeared to give Nayib Bukele a second term as president by a wide margin, but problems with the vote count delayed results Monday in an election that for many represented a trade-off of curtailed civil liberties for security in a country once terrorized by gangs.
Ballots from 31% of polling places had been counted late Sunday, a percentage that suddenly jumped to 70% on Monday morning, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s preliminary results.
Bukele had 83% of the vote, far ahead of the 7% for his nearest competitor, the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. A jubilant Bukele declared a historic margin of victory even before electoral authorities released the first preliminary figures Sunday evening.
The electoral authority noted “multiple actions that have hampered the development of the transmission activities of preliminary results” and the lack of paper used to print vote tallies at polling places. It called for a switch to a contingency process that included tallying votes by hand.
Eduardo Escobar, a lawyer with the nongovernmental organization Citizen Action, said he understood there had been two problems: Some poll workers were unable to enter vote totals in the system, and others who did were unable to transmit them.
He said he was not concerned about the result because the margin was so wide. With the order for manual counts, “I understand that the issue is flowing,” he said.
Standing on the balcony of the National Palace on Sunday evening, Bukele said El Salvador had made history. “Salvadorans have given the example to the entire world that any problem can be solved if there is the will to do it,” he said.
The self-described “world’s coolest dictator” had soaring approval ratings and virtually no competition. That’s despite concerns that Bukele’s government has chipped away at checks and balances in his first term and accusations that he dodged a constitutional ban on reelection.