OPINION: Anti-Corruption Candidates Defeat Traditional Parties

Nayib Bukele, as mayor of San Salvador, meets with then-President Sánchez Cerén in 2015. (Flickr)

Nayib Bukele, as mayor of San Salvador, meets with then-President Sánchez Cerén in 2015. (Flickr)

The election of Nayib Bukele as president of El Salvador on February 3 continued a trend in Latin America of independent populists winning elections. Bukele campaigned primarily on anti-corruption measures, a platform similar to those of left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is known commonly as AMLO, in Mexico and right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, according to LatinNews.

Bukele, a former mayor of San Salvador, won 53 percent of the vote in the presidential election. Bukele used to belong to the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which has traditionally alternated in power with the conservative National Republican Alliance (ARENA). According to the Financial Times, Bukele left the FMLN to run on the ticket of the conservative GANA party, which holds few seats in the legislature.

According to Brookings, Bukele’s election demonstrated the continued decline of traditional parties, both in El Salvador and in Latin America as a whole. Traditional party systems in the region, often connected to organized labor, have been in decline for over two decades. This decline has permitted the rise of populist candidates running outside of established political organizations.

It is unclear how Bukele will resolve the issue of widespread government corruption, as his campaign offered few specifics beyond the slogan, “There is enough money when no one steals.” Anger at official corruption has become a powerful force for candidates able to harness it, as evidenced by the overwhelming victories of AMLO and Bolsonaro.

While these newly elected presidents’ ability to eliminate government corruption remains untested, their electoral success demonstrates the desire for change in a region that is fed up with establishment politicians using positions for self-enrichment.