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Bukele’s re-election bid fuels new concern in El Salvador | Civil Rights News

A deeper descent into authoritarianism, or the extension of a presidency that most citizens believe has improved the country. Those were the two main reactions in El Salvador when President Nayib Bukele said last week that he plans to seek re-election in 2024.

For human rights defenders, Bukele’s announcement raises the risk of slipping back towards a dark period in the country’s history when 75,000 people were killed during a 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.

The peace accord to end the violence established clear democratic norms to help the country avoid another bloody confrontation, such as limiting the military’s political power and requiring reforms to the judicial system.

But Bukele has slowly eroded these rules since coming to power in 2019, rights activist Celia Medrano told Al Jazeera, and violating the principle that bars re-election is just the latest example.

“El Salvador as a country will have to hit rock bottom, as happened to us 30 to 40 years ago [during the civil war], so that people begin to understand and react to what is happening,” said Medrano.

For many, the president’s plan to seek re-election did not come as a surprise. Congress is controlled by Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party. Legislators have removed the attorney general and constitutional court judges and replaced them with loyalists. And the constitutional court ruled last year that Bukele can run for re-election — although legal experts dispute this.

The Salvadoran constitution bans consecutive re-election, although it allows former presidents to run for office again after two presidential terms have passed.

“The constitutional court can’t issue rulings that openly go against the constitution,” said Leonor Arteaga, a Salvadoran lawyer and director of the Impunity and Grave Human Rights Violations programme at the Due Process of Law Foundation.

Popular support

Yet with Bukele’s popularity rates soaring — he ended his third year in office this May with an 87 percent approval rating, according to a survey by Salvadoran media outlet La Prensa Grafica — most citizens are content to let him bend the rules.

“If he submits himself to the [electoral] process, like all the other candidates, it will be the people with their votes who decide,” 58-year-old Bukele voter Amadeo Lopez told Al Jazeera.

Bukele’s government also has defended his decision to seek re-election.

Vice President Felix Ulloa has said it would not be unconstitutional. “One of the things that has concerned me my entire life has been to respect the rule of the democratic and constitutional state,” Ulloa said, as reported by The Associated Press news agency.

Human rights groups disagree, but there are few options available to contest Bukele’s plan.

The Salvadoran constitution allows for the right to “insurrection” in the case of re-election, but Medrano said this would be unlikely in the current political climate.

“Breaking the rules of the game [could unleash] a new wave of violence that takes us back to the scenarios of confrontation that the country experienced before,” she said.

‘Not normal’

Experts say Bukele is following a playbook used by other authoritarian leaders in Latin America who were elected through democratic means but then eroded state institutions and changed the rules to allow themselves to stay in power.

In 2009, Venezuelans voted in a referendum to abolish term limits for elected officials, paving the way for Hugo Chavez to remain in power until his death.

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega lobbied for a change to the constitution, approved in 2014, to allow presidents to be re-elected indefinitely; he is now serving his fourth consecutive term in office.

And former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, now awaiting trial on drug charges in the US, secured a second term in a highly contested 2017 election after a controversial ruling two years earlier paved the way for his candidacy — despite a ban on re-election in the Honduran constitution.

“History has shown us that when a president wants to stay in power using non-legal means, such as altering the constitution and the rule of law, that only means more human rights violations, more concentration of power in one person, and that the population is going to be left without rights,” said Arteaga. “That should not be seen as normal.”

Public opposition

The president’s office did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on criticism of his plan to seek re-election.

While Bukele continues to enjoy popular support in El Salvador, Medrano said cracks in his administration are starting to show.

A law that made Bitcoin legal currency, which recently marked its one-year anniversary, has been widely unpopular among Salvadorans, while increasing inflation and an economic downturn have affected the daily lives of many citizens.

In a recent survey (PDF) by the Institute for Public Opinion at San Salvador’s Central American University (IUDOP), 30 percent of respondents said the economic situation worsened during Bukele’s third year in office, compared with about 13 percent the year before.

El Salvador also saw one of its deadliest days in nearly two decades at the end of March, prompting Bukele’s party to issue a state of exception that suspended certain civil liberties and has led to mass arrests and accusations of human rights abuses.

The measure remains in place more than five months later. And while 90 percent of Salvadorans said the state of exception was helping to improve security, according to the IUDOP poll, it has also drawn protests.

On September 15, the day Bukele announced he would seek re-election, opposition groups, including war veterans, worker’s unions and family members of people arrested during the state of exception, marched through the capital to protest the government.

Against that backdrop, Arteaga said Bukele’s campaign announcement aimed “to silence these voices and reinforce that he is here to stay and will be here for many years”.

Although she recognised the president’s strong mandate, Arteaga predicted “dark years” ahead to come for the country. “The control of the institutions and the attack on every voice that is critical is going to intensify.”

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International

‘Dilemma for the Russians’ after surrendering key Ukraine city | Russia-Ukraine war News

The recapture of Lyman city in the east – in territory recently annexed by Moscow – raises questions about how Russia can hold surrounding areas with supply routes severed.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops pulled back.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential staging post for increased attacks to the east while heaping further pressure on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had taken over Lyman after encircling it the day before.

“As of 12:30pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the previous day it was withdrawing its forces there to move to “more favourable positions”.

‘Sort of a dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, who have used the city for months as a crucial logistics and rail hub in the Donetsk region to move military equipment, troops, and other necessary supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult so it presents a sort of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions or oblasts that Russia annexed on Friday after people there voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think-tank, said the fall of Lyman suggested Russia was “deprioritizing defending Luhansk” to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine. 

“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” it said

‘Courage, bravery, skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a city within territory of President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are able to push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with American broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retaken swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war.

A pomp-filled Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday has failed to stem a wave of criticism within Russia of how its “special military operation” is being handled.

Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, on Saturday called for a change of strategy “right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Other hawkish Russian figures criticised Russian generals and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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Will Israel and Lebanon resolve their maritime border dispute? | Oil and Gas

Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds

A long-running dispute between Israel and Lebanon may soon be resolved.

Both countries lay claim to the same stretch of ocean in the eastern Mediterranean that could contain lucrative gas deposits.

A US mediator has sent a written proposal to both nations to demarcate their border.

Lebanon’s government and Hezbollah have welcomed the offer. Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid also supports the deal, but former leader Benjamin Netanyahu has labelled it an “illegal hijacking” of Israeli territory.

So what is at stake?

Presenter: Folly Bah Thibault

Guests:

Laury Haytayan – Oil and gas analyst and political activist

Russell Shalev – Researcher, Kohelet Policy Forum

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Voting ends in Bosnia election set to bring little change

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Polls have closed Sunday in Bosnia’s general election in which voters chose their new leaders from among the long-established cast of sectarian candidates and their challengers who pledged to eradicate, if elected, corruption and clientelism in government.

Moments after vote count begun, Bosnia’s international overseer, Christian Schmidt, announced in a YouTube video that he was amending the country’s electoral law “to ensure functionality and timely implementation of election results.” Schmid assured citizens in the video that the changes “will in no way affect” the votes cast on Sunday for different levels of government that are part of one of the world’s most complicated institutional set-ups.

Bosnia’s power-sharing system was agreed upon in a U.S.-sponsored peace deal that ended the brutal 1992-95 war between its three main ethnic groups – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats – by dividing the country into two highly independent entities. The entities — one run by Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats – have broad autonomy but are linked by shared national institutions. All countrywide actions require consensus from all three ethnic groups.

The agreement also gave broad powers to the international high representative, the post currently held by Schmidt, including the ability to impose laws and to dismiss officials and civil servants who undermine the country’s fragile post-war ethnic balance.

The Sunday election included races for the three members of the shared Bosnian presidency; parliament deputies at the state, entity and regional levels; and the president of the country’s Serb-run part.

The traditional ruling class was challenged in the election by parties which, despite ideological differences and sometimes clashing agendas, shared the campaign promise to eradicate patronage networks and sanction acts of corruption in government.

Analysts predicted the long-entrenched nationalists who have enriched cronies and ignored the needs of the people were likely to remain dominant after the election despite deeply disappointing their constituents, largely because the sectarian post-war system of governance leaves pragmatic, reform-minded Bosnians with little incentive to vote.

However, contenders vying to replace the nationalists on the country’s tripartite presidency and in the post of the president of its Serb-run part insisted the preliminary results indicated they were wining the vote.

Election turnout on Sunday was 50% or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

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