🌍 Bukele wins second term

Plus: Philippine secession on the cards?

Hi Intriguer. Years ago during work trips to El Salvador, I managed to eat vast quantities of pupusas, sink the occasional Pilsener, climb spectacular volcanoes, and get to know some truly resilient people.

But the El Salvador I got to know was also gripped by an intractable gang problem and, honestly, it was hard to imagine a way out.

Today’s briefing looks at the man that many now credit not only with imagining, but delivering a way out - the world’s most popular leader and the young, newly-re-elected president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele.

- Jeremy Dicker, Managing Editor

PS - We’re partnering with our friends at Lykeion to produce a special primer on next week’s Indonesian elections, hitting inboxes this Sunday.

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TODAY’S NEWS

Blinken meets Saudi Crown Prince. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to discuss “an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza”, and rally support for a pause and hostage release deal currently under discussion. The talks came the same day that a drone strike against a base hosting US troops in Syria killed six US-backed Kurdish combatants.

Xi gets briefed. Officials are due to brief Chinese President Xi Jinping on the country’s financial markets as soon as today, as continued wobbles drive expectations for a more forceful government rescue plan. Chinese and Hong Kong equities have lost nearly $7T in value since 2021.

‘Russia’s Google’ exits Russia. The Dutch-based parent company of Yandex, the leading search engine in Russia, has sold its Russian operation in a $5.2B deal, much lower than its estimated valuation. Critics have previously rebuked the site for censoring information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

King Charles announces cancer diagnosis. The British monarch has postponed his public engagements after being diagnosed with cancer. He’s now undergoing treatment and remains “wholly positive”.

Nikki Haley asks for Secret Service detail. Presidential primary candidate Nikki Haley has requested protection from the Secret Service after increased threats against her. Haley was earlier the target of an attempted ‘swatting’ - ie, someone falsely reported a crime in order to send heavily armed ‘Swat’ teams to her home.

TOP STORY

Bukele cruises to landslide re-election 

The people of El Salvador re-elected President Nayib Bukele in a landslide on Sunday

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, has won a thumping victory in Sunday’s presidential election, keeping him at the helm of the Central American country for a constitution-bending second term. 

While celebrating from the balcony (🇸🇻) of the National Palace in San Salvador, Bukele declared, “this will be the first time where one sole party rules a country in a completely democratic system. The opposition has been pulverised”. 

And he’s got a point: the president won a stunning ~83% of the vote, giving him near total control of the legislative assembly. 83% is an almost North Korean number, unheard of in modern El Salvador and, frankly, in almost any democracy.

How’d he do it? It’s best explained with a single statistic: under his rule, the country’s murder rate has plunged by 90%.

For years, El Salvador was regarded as the world’s deadliest place not at war, as multinational gangs like MS13 and Barrio 18 extorted 70% of businesses, intimidated authorities, and recruited despondent youngsters. The wealthy hunkered down in gated compounds while others fled north.

Governments veered from social programs to hard-line crackdowns, and even tried a ‘truce’ with the gangs in 2012. But a gradual drop in violence really started to accelerate under the tougher approach of President Bukele, who:

  • declared a state of emergency in 2022

  • arrested around 75,000 gang members, and

  • locked them up in a massive new prison.

He started tweeting to mark murder-free days, announcing the country had racked up 500 of them by last year, compared to just seven in the two decades before his term. El Faro, an acclaimed local news outlet, even wrote that “the gangs do not exist in this moment as El Salvador knew them for decades.

For anyone who knows El Salvador, this is quite simply remarkable.

Of course, Bukele has his critics:

But sure, while Bukele has his critics, not many of them are in El Salvador, where 92.4% of folks still back his approach. This partly explains why the 42-year-old faced little resistance as he consolidated control and stretched the constitution to run for this second term.

So what’s next? If Bukele’s first term was all about security, his second will be on the economy - with the gangs now subdued, Bukele can focus on El Salvador’s stubborn poverty rates, declining exports, and lagging GDP growth.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

Bukele is bucking the trend in Latin America in some big ways here.

First, it’s worth recalling he’s actually a third-party candidate, who’s now single-handedly ended the traditional two-party system: the old left and right parties barely cobbled together 10% of the vote on Sunday.

Second, he’s bucking Latin America’s anti-incumbent trend, which has seen voters boot out all kinds of governments that deliver middling outcomes.

And third, in these first two, he’s also bucking an entrenched feeling of inevitability for many voters across the continent, who’ve been losing faith in their institutions and their ability to bring meaningful change to their lives.

But that all leaves us with a fourth question - when Salvadoran folks eventually decide it’s time for Bukele to go, will he be willing to buck his region’s long history of leaders who’ve simply refused to listen?

Also worth noting:

  • While the overall murder rate has plunged, the UN says violent deaths of women have increased in the country.

SUPPORTED BY THE DISPATCH

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Today, a growing community of more than 400,000 rely on The Dispatch to help make sense of a political world gone crazy. Get news and analysis that is more than a scripted reality show.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇵🇰 Pakistan: An offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban mounted an hours-long attack on police in northern Pakistan early yesterday morning, killing at least ten officers and injuring several more. It’s one of several recent violent incidents ahead of this Thursday’s general elections.

  2. 🇬🇧 UK: The UK’s High Court is deciding if Australian computer scientist Craig Wright is the person behind the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. The case is being brought by a crypto non-profit hoping to reduce the impact of litigation in the growing sector.

  3. 🇲🇲 Myanmar: At least 95 Myanmar border guards have fled over to Bangladesh in recent days as fighting escalates between rebels and Myanmar’s junta. Since mounting a coup in 2021, the junta has struggled to contain armed ethnic uprisings across the country.

  4. 🇦🇷 Argentina: The lower house has approved President Milei’s sweeping reform package, aimed at delivering on his election promise to unshackle the private sector and reverse Argentina’s economic decline. The controversial bill now goes to the Senate for further debate.

  5. 🇰🇷 South Korea: The Saudis and South Koreans have signed a new defence cooperation pact on weapons research, development, and production. Seoul’s arms exports to the region have jumped ten-fold in a decade as Arab states look to diversify beyond traditional Western partners.

EXTRA INTRIGUE

Here’s what people around the world are tweeting about

  • 🇳🇦President’ is trending in Namibia after 82-year-old President Hage Geingob died on Sunday - he had been receiving treatment for cancer. 

  • 🇯🇲 #GRAMMYs was trending in Jamaica as music fans watched US star Taylor Swift make history with her fourth ‘Album of the Year’ award. 

  • 🇵🇰 And Pakistanis used #KashmirSolidarityDay during yesterday’s public holiday, which authorities say is to express solidarity with the people of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

The Philippines Department of National Defence issued a statement yesterday (Monday) to clarify its position after former president Rodrigo Duterte called for his restive home island of Mindanao to separate from the rest of the country, amid a constitutional rift with current leader BongBong Marcos Jr. 

Spare a thought for Sara Duterte, daughter of the former president, who also happens to now be BongBong’s vice-president. So awkward.

DAILY POLL

Is a democracy still a democracy if it votes itself towards autocracy?

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Yesterday’s poll: Would you support a similar motion in your city?

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 👍 Yes, they're too big, dirty, and dangerous (46%)

🟨🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️ 👎 No, everyone's free to choose for themselves (39%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🏔️ I don't live in a city! (11%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (4%)

Your two cents:

  • 👍 H.M: “Nobody needs to drive an SUV in the city.”

  • 👎 G.M: “My city, Austin Texas, decided years ago to discourage people from driving SUVs and trucks by creating parking spaces for small cars not larger ones. There has been zero reduction in SUV and truck ownership. There has been an increase in people taking up more than one parking spot.”

  • ✍️ C.B: “But maybe make it less if it's an EV?”

  • ✍️ M.H.O: “The market will work this out, eventually.”

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