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El Salvador consolidates local governments, opposition warns of power grab

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele on Wednesday signed into law a bill to slash the country’s 262 municipalities to just 44, a move the government says will cut spending but that the opposition decries as a power grab.

El Salvador’s Congress passed the bill late on Tuesday with 67 votes in favour and 15 against.

Ruling party deputies, who hold a majority in Congress, said the move will trim public spending, generate more investment and help fight corruption – which Bukele vowed to do this month.

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The new municipalities are set to be governed by 14 departments.

“This seeks to generate a more equitable distribution of wealth, which will be converted into opportunities for the Salvadoran people, improving their quality of life,” said Elisa Rosales, a deputy from the ruling New Ideas party.

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Government estimates peg annual savings at $250 million when it comes into force on May 1, 2024. Under the law, the smaller localities would not lose their cultural identity, traditions, or administrative offices.

Opposition lawmakers, however, say the move looks to centralize power, increase bureaucracy for project development and reduce the municipalities’ autonomous resource management.

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“This measure seeks only to concentrate power,” said right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) Deputy Cesar Reyes, adding the ruling party was looking to gain an electoral advantage.

El Salvador is set to hold general elections in February 2024 and local elections the following month. Polls give a strong preference to Bukele’s New Ideas.

Last week, Congress passed another bill to cut the number of lawmakers to 60 from 84. This measure is also set to come into effect after the 2024 elections.

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