El Salvador‘s Constitutional Reform Proposal to Expand Citizens’ Role

On Sept. 15, the 200th anniversary of El Salvador’s independence from Spain, President Nayib Bukele received the blueprint for a new constitution, submitted by a multi-sectoral committee of experts and stakeholders which I had the honor of leading.

El Salvador’s current constitution was enacted in 1983 during wartime — when the legislature was dominated by right-wing parties engaged in a bloody conflict with leftist insurgents over the future of El Salvador. Our country was a Cold War battleground. The current constitution reflects that deeply polarized period in our political life.

Since that time, changes around the globe have impacted El Salvador and transformed the political, economic and cultural dynamic. Salvadorans are no longer ideologically divided along left or right political preferences. They are looking for results.

There is also a general acceptance that economic success depends on engagement in a globalized market economy. The clamor for expanding rights to sectors heretofore “invisible” or largely ignored must become part of the national imperative. Environmental concerns have become existential issues that need to be emphasized in the national charter, along with other fundamental rights adopted by the International Human Rights community.

New forms of political expression have emerged as alternatives to the traditional political parties. These new forms of expression must be provided access to the national discourse for a genuine democracy to emerge that reflects the will of the larger society. Citizen participation mechanisms such as referenda, plebiscites, recall elections and citizen initiatives need to be codified into our democratic blueprint. The election of Bukele to the presidency in 2019 was the most impactful manifestation of the changes that have occurred in El Salvador. The two-party system created after the end of the civil war is gone, closing the 30-year post-conflict era. The current constitution reflects a status quo that cannot remain in stasis if democracy is going to overcome these modern imperatives.

As a constitutional scholar with several constitution-writing exercises in emerging democracies under my belt, including cases in our own constitutional chamber, it makes sense to me that Bukele accepted my petition to rewrite the constitution in order to reflect the new global and national reality.

Accordingly, we laid out a process that enabled every sector of Salvadoran society to participate in drafting the text of a new constitution. The process enjoyed the support of a broad array of actors from throughout El Salvadoran sectors, including almost 4000 entries from Salvadorans living abroad that came to our online platform — www.consulta.sv — from 25 different countries.

On Sept. 15, I submitted the proposed constitutional reform to the president on behalf of the ad hoc committee tasked with supervising the constitution-drafting process. We are proud of the work and encourage interested parties from around the world to examine the product of our labor.

As the ultimate expression of the nation’s values, the proposed constitution represents today’s El Salvador. If approved by Congress, the new constitution will serve as the basis for a sustained period of democratic expansion and economic growth, with a renewed commitment to traditionally marginalized groups. It will be a far more effective mediator of the national debate on the future of El Salvador because it expands the scope of public participation. If we succeed, the new constitution will come into effect after Bukele leaves office and will inspire a new generation of El Salvadorans to take the country into a brighter future — one in which the government responds to the governed and everyone has an equal voice in defining the human condition in El Salvador.


Felix Ulloa is the vice president of El Salvador.

Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.

Morning Consult