El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly, controlled by a majority of deputies from New Ideas, the party of President Nayib Bukele, this week approved two laws that automatically retire one third of the country’s judges. The reforms of the Law of the Judicial Career and the Organic Law of the General Prosecutor’s Office, promoted by seven deputies of New Ideas, involve retiring magistrates and prosecutors over 60 years of age, as well as those who accumulate more than 30 years of career.
Those who defend the measure, such as President Bukele, say that the modifications seek to “purge the justice system and the Public Ministry of corrupt judges, although it is not clear in what way, since the reform does not specifically affect the magistrates involved in causes of corruption, but only those over 60.RELATED
Once again, the reforms have been approved without going through the analysis of any commission before reaching the plenary session and with little prior debate on the premises, the same as happened with the controversial regulation of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
The deputies of the two majority opposition parties voted against. Representatives of the opposition denounce a worrying concentration of power by Bukele over the other powers of the State.
The measure does not affect the judges of the Supreme Court. And that decision hides an explanation: the recent appointment of the new magistrates. Last June, the ruling majority in the Assembly appointed five new judges of this institution “without any transparency or public deliberation, violating the process established in the Constitution and in the Assembly’s own internal norms,” according to Human Right Watch.
In turn, this same Court will be responsible for appointing the new judges who will replace more than 200 of the nearly 700 judges in the country. Opposition leaders have criticized the measure and pointed out that it is violating judicial independence. Erick Salguero, leader of the opposition Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA, right) has said that “the immobility of the judge is a guarantee of judicial independence. This independence ensures that trials are resolved by impartial judges, unrelated to any influence.”
A month ago, after the arrest of several former officials of his party, the secretary general of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN, left), Óscar Ortiz, warned that what “is being consummated is a dictatorship” with the Bukele Government. But neither has criticism from human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch. The organization has denounced that the reforms “threaten judicial independence by allowing the authorities to dismiss all judges and prosecutors who are 60 years old or older.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Magistrates and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, has also warned against the measure. As pointed out this week, this is a “serious attack” on the justice system. “Serious attack on judicial independence. The actions of the authorities violate the basic principles of the UN on the Independence of the Judiciary and all international standards on the matter,” he posted on his Twitter account.
The reactions have not stopped Bukele. The Salvadoran president advances thanks to the broad social and electoral support. In a survey published this Friday, 84.7% of Salvadorans approve of the work carried out by the president in his two years and three months in office, according to the consulting firm LPG Datos.
However, other polls show that 60% of those interviewed believe that current deputies “work more for the interests of their political party than for those of the population,” according to the latest survey by the José Simeón Cañas Central American University.
Since coming to power in 2019, Bukele has strained institutional counterweights, a situation that worsened last May when his party won an overwhelming majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly.
The last steps may be just the beginning. The Salvadoran president plans to move forward with a constitutional reform in mid-September. The proposal extends the presidential term from five to six years and establishes the possibility of revoking it after the third year of government.