Outsider Channels Voter Anger as Salvadorans Vote for President

(Bloomberg) -- Young political outsider Nayib Bukele hopes to end decades of two-party rule in today’s presidential election in El Salvador, channeling voters’ anger at the corruption, gang violence and poverty which have driven hundreds of thousands to flee to the U.S.

Bukele, 37, leads polls heading into the vote. His nearest rival, Carlos Calleja of the conservative-leaning Arena party, is polling in second and may face Bukele in a runoff on March 10 if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. Ruling party candidate Hugo Martinez trails in third.

Voting centers open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. The next president will be sworn in on June 1 to a five-year term.

The winner will need to revive an economy that has lagged its peers and is likely to have strained relations with President Donald Trump, who threatened to cut off aid if El Salvador and its neighbors can’t stop migrant caravans heading toward the U.S.

The nation’s dollar bonds have returned 3.9 percent over the last six months, compared to a 3.2 percent return for the Bloomberg Barclays Emerging Markets Sovereign Index. A better-than-expected performance by Calleja would be a “positive surprise” for investors, according to a Feb. 1 report by Nomura Securities.

Bukele, a former mayor of the capital San Salvador, launched his government plan with a Steve Jobs-style presentation, pacing up and down in front of a large screen promising a new airport and to use "big data" to tackle crime and crumbling roads. He’s said he’ll target economic growth of more than 4 percent, and loosen the fiscal responsibility law, which limits the government’s ability to borrow.

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