“I’m voting for Nuevas Ideas because I want the president to have control of everything.” This is how one college student supporting Nuevas Ideas, Nayib Bukele’s party, views El Salvador’s February 28 legislative elections. All reputable polling indicates that Nuevas Ideas will emerge from the elections having consolidated its position as the greatest political force in the country. This is the general sense of people in the streets as well, despite warnings from numerous civil society organizations and the editorial pages of the press that the party’s legislative campaign lacks any real concrete proposals.
In El Salvador, political proselytizing revolves around the figure of the president. Billboards on highways outside the capital and in the streets of San Salvador make the campaign’s personality cult clear: enormous sky-blue rectangles featuring a giant white “N” and nothing more. Nuevas Ideas markets itself as “the N for Nayib,” even though the president is not running for reelection.
The party that originally brought Bukele to the presidency, GANA (Grand Alliance for National Unity), has tried to take advantage of this branding and pass itself off as the party of Bukele, in order to win votes. Only a few years ago, GANA used orange imagery and featured its name prominently on its flag. Now, GANA has changed its colors to cyan, a shade close to that of Nuevas Ideas, and features the party logo — a white silhouette of a soaring swallow, the iconic logo of the movement to elect Bukele during his 2019 presidential campaign — on its flag instead of its name.
In their death throes, ARENA (Republican Nationalist Alliance) and the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), have committed to distancing themselves from Bukele, and are selling themselves as the only viable opposition. The February 28 elections are being defined by a man who does not even appear on the ballot.
“Filling the Legislative Assembly with Nuevas Ideas deputies would be the best thing to happen for the president to pass everything he wants for the country,” said Miguel Sánchez, a business owner in San Salvador’s Centro Histórico, or historic downtown district. His sentiment perhaps best sums up the spirit of tens of thousands of the party’s supporters: they want the president to have all the power.
When we asked party supporters which proposal from the 84 Nuevas Ideas legislative candidates they liked the most and why, the answers all revolved around the president and little else. What follows is a modest attempt to collect and present some of these views and opinions. In downtown San Salvador, we interviewed ten people who said they were planning on voting for Nuevas Ideas, and asked them why. Not a single person interviewed knew who the candidates for Legislative Assembly were. Not one. Everyone claimed, in one way or another, that their reason for voting for Nuevas Ideas boiled down to a single factor: Bukele.