The constitution adopted on 20 November 1983 defines El Salvador as a republic. The constitution vests executive power in the president, who is to be elected by direct popular vote for a term of five years. The president, who must be native-born, over 30 years of age, the offspring of native-born parents, and a layperson, is not eligible for immediate reelection. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, enforces the laws, formulates an annual budget, draws up international treaties and conventions (which must be ratified by the National Assembly), appoints diplomatic and consular officials, and supervises the police. Every two years, the National Assembly elects three substitutes (designados), who can, in order of designation, assume the presidency when the president and vice president are not available.
Legislative power is exercised by a unicameral National Assembly composed of 84 deputies apportioned among the various departments according to population. Deputies are elected for a three-year term and must be at least 25 years of age. The Assembly levies taxes, contracts loans and arranges for their payment, regulates the money supply, approves the executive budget, ratifies treaties and conventions, declares war, and suspends or reestablishes constitutional guarantees in national emergencies. The deputies, the president's ministers, and the Supreme Court all may propose legislation. The Assembly approves legislation and is technically empowered to override a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote.
Universal male and female suffrage was inaugurated in 1950. However, voting in El Salvador has been a source of controversy. During the 1980s, the government made voting compulsory, while the guerrillas insisted the citizens should not collaborate with the system. Thus, the Salvadorans were confronted with a dilemma: vote, and face the wrath of the guerrillas, or refuse to vote, and immediately become suspected of leftist sympathy. At times, voting was not secret. Current practices suggest a more confidential and voluntary system is developing.