After decades of largely corrupt two-party rule, the election of Nayib Bukele, an outsider, marks a turning point for El Salvador. The young former-mayor’s electoral victory comes at a crucial time for the Northern Triangle region of Central America, where democratic institutions and civil society are again exhibiting symptoms of vulnerability and weakness after recent improvements.
Nayib Bukele, a 37-year-old former advertising executive, has lured young and middle-class voters, while running as an outsider to a political establishment dominated by an older generation of former military officers and guerrilla commanders who faced off during a 12-year civil war.
The scion of a wealthy family that owns motorcycle dealerships, insurance and finance businesses, he channeled voter discontent over violence, poverty and corruption in a country that has become one of the largest sources of migrants illegally entering the U.S.
Early results point to Mr. Bukele winning the election with an outright majority and avoiding a second-round runoff. With 88% of ballots processed, he had won 53.8% of the vote, trouncing his nearest challenger by more than 20 percentage points.
Carlos Calleja, the candidate of a coalition led by the right-wing Arena party, won 31.6%, while Hugo Martinez, candidate of the incumbent FMLN, a party founded by former Marxist guerillas, won 13.8%. El Salvador’s electoral authority said at a press conference Sunday night that the results were preliminary but indicated a “definitive trend” that was unlikely to be reversed.
Messrs. Calleja and Martinez acknowledged Mr. Bukele’s win Sunday night.
“Today, we won in the first round and we made history,” Mr. Bukele told a crowd of cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters, before heading to a public plaza in San Salvador’s historic center to celebrate.
“Bukele represents a death blow to the system of two-party rule for El Salvador,” said Alexander Segovia, former chief of staff to Mauricio Funes, El Salvador’s president from 2009 to 2014. “He hasn’t been a part of the governing structure that has ruled the country for 30 years.”