'Peace, tranquility, freedom': El Salvador looks set to re-elect popular 'dictator' Bukele

There is an unfamiliar air of serenity in El Salvador's capital, where voters head to the polls Sunday without the specter of gang violence and intimidation hanging over them for the first time in years.

Most of them will opt, they say, for incumbent President Nayib Bukele whose "war" on gangs they credit with improving the daily lives of a majority of Salvadorans almost overnight.

"Now more than ever we are in a democracy because we have a president who thinks about Salvadorans, who is governing for Salvadorans," Alvaro Perez, a 47-year-old carpenter in the capital San Salvador told AFP.

He was attending an impromptu dance party on a public square -- something that just two years ago would have been unthinkable.

"We call this peace, tranquility and freedom... it is something I never thought I'd see," said Perez.

More than 75,000 suspected gang members have been rounded up under a state of emergency introduced by the Bukele government in March 2022 after a horrific gang massacre that claimed 87 civilian lives in a single weekend.

And though it has come with allegations of widespread human rights violations under a president seen as leaning increasingly towards authoritarianism, for now the anti-gang campaign is an election winner.

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