El Salvador kicks off election campaigns as incumbent's bid faces criticism over constitutionality

FILE PHOTO: El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele addresses the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 19, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador's political parties launched their campaigns for the upcoming presidential elections on Tuesday, amid vocal criticism from the opposition that President Nayib Bukele will seek re-election despite it being prohibited by the constitution.

More than 6 million Salvadorans are set to hit the polls on Feb. 4 to elect a president and vice president, who govern for five-year terms.

Bukele is heavily favored to win re-election in the Central American nation, whose constitution forbids consecutive terms. However, the Supreme Court, filled with Bukele-backed judges, ruled in 2021 a second term was nonetheless permissible.

A recent poll by Francisco Gavidia University's Citizen Studies Center found that Bukele and his running mate, Vice President Felix Ulloa, have 68.4% support from voters, with the next-closest competitors at just 4.3%.

Bukele, 42, enjoys unprecedented popularity off the back of his crackdown on crime, which has boosted safety in the country as rights organizations allege serious human rights violations against those arrested for alleged gang ties, which on Tuesday totaled more than 73,000.

The president has denied abuses and rejected reports that he had agreed to truces with gangs.

A September document obtained by Reuters showed Salvadoran police believed nearly 43,000 people tied to gangs still remained free. The country now has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Josie Kao)

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