SAN SALVADOR – President Nayib Bukele cannot employ the army in ways that jeopardize “representative and democratic government,” El Salvador’s highest court said on Monday after the rightist brought armed soldiers and police into congress.
The head of state was instructed “to abstain from making use of the armed forces in activities contrary to the established constitutional ends,” the Supreme Court said in a statement.
Judges issued the order in response to a motion brought by two unnamed petitioners against Bukele’s summoning the Legislative Assembly for the special session on Sunday that ended with the military intervention.
The court accepted the motion and declared null and void the government proclamation requiring congress to meet.
Besides admonishing the president, the judges instructed Defense Minister Rene Merino and the head of the national police, Mauricio Arriaza, to ignore any orders that are not consistent with their “constitutionally and legally” defined obligations.
Bukele’s administration convened the special session with the aim of forcing the assembly to approve a $109 million loan to finance the next phase of the president’s public-safety program.
The government said that lawmakers who failed to show up would be undermining the constitutional order and opening the door to an insurrection.
By the scheduled start of Sunday’s session, thousands of Bukele supporters were gathered outside the assembly, while only a score of lawmakers showed up. In the absence of a quorum, soldiers and police with assault rifles entered the chamber.
“Now, I think it’s very clear who has control of the situation,” Bukele said.
Speaking later to his followers outside, the president called for another protest next Sunday if lawmakers failed to approve his budget request by the end of this week.
The assembly canceled its regular session on Monday and the leaders of the respective parties held a closed-door meeting to agree on their next move in the conflict with the president.
“Of course there was an attempted coup d’etat, an attempt to dissolve the Legislative Assembly,” congressional speaker Mario Ponce told a press conference after the meeting.
He repudiated Bukele’s actions on behalf of all 84 members of the assembly, including those from the president’s GANA party.
Though El Salvador’s history includes decades spent under military rule, the country has been governed for the last 40 years by elected presidents, even during the 1980-1992 civil war, so Sunday’s spectacle came as a shock to many.
Ponce urged Attorney General Raul Melara to investigate the events of Sunday, accusing El Salvador’s top prosecutor of passivity in the face of Bukele’s actions.
Ponce likewise criticized the “week and biased reaction” of the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro.
On Saturday, the OAS chief revealed that he had discussed the brewing crisis with Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill.
Hill offered assurances that the Bukele government would respect El Salvador’s constitution and public institutions, Almagro said on Twitter.
The Legislative Assembly formally asked the United Nations and the OAS to “active the mechanisms necessary to monitor the institutional crisis created by the executive branch.”