Opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s vote show strong support for President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party.
Voters cast their ballot in El Salvador on Sunday, as President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party is expected to make big gains in legislative and local elections.
Long lines of voters wearing face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic stretched outside polling stations before polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. GMT) .
Salvadorans choose 84 lawmakers to represent them in the National Assembly for the next three years, along with 262 city councils.
Opinion polls released before the vote showed Bukele’s party had around 70% support – and a high chance of securing more than half of the mayoral positions and enough seats to hold at least a simple majority in the Congress.
Bukele, who took office in 2019, came to power on a promise to root out corruption and offer an alternative to El Salvador’s main political parties, the left-wing FMLN and right-wing ARENA.
ARENA currently holds 37 of the 84 seats in Congress and controls 138 of the 262 city councils, while the FMLN holds 23 seats in Congress and 64 city councils.
Tens of thousands of police, soldiers and international observers were deployed to supervise the vote.
“We hope to have a peaceful election day, a true civic celebration crowned by massive voter turnout,” Dora Martinez, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), told national television.
Earlier this month, the TSE called for international observers to be dispatched soon after two FMLN activists were killed and five others injured in a shooting in the capital, San Salvador.
Observers said it was one of the worst political attacks in decades.
The tensions were rising ahead of the legislative elections, as civil society groups expressed concerns that a strong performance by Bukele’s party could see him consolidate power.
Human rights activists said the president had shown authoritarian leanings – an accusation he and his supporters rejected.
With a majority in Congress, Bukele would be able to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and the prosecution.
A two-thirds majority would allow the Nuevas Ideas party to appoint senior government officials, such as the attorney general and five of the country’s 15 Supreme Court justices.
“I will vote for [Nayib’s party] because he has helped us a lot, ”Wendy Henriquez, a 46 year old street vendor, told Al Jazeera before the vote.
Officials expect the preliminary results to be released a few hours after polling closes at 5 p.m. (11 p.m. GMT) on Sunday.