El Salvador's leftist ruling party candidate, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, is leading the country's presidential election, according to early results. But with outright victory not assured, he is set to face a runoff.
Early results late Sunday pointed towards a victory for Ceren, a former leftist rebel who now serves as Vice President. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal said Ceren's Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) was leading at 49 percent, with 55 percent of votes counted. His conservative rival former San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, of the National Republican Alliance (ARENA), trailed with nearly 39 percent.
With no candidate set to garner more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the two leading hopefuls will be held on March 9.
Ceren is a longtime figurehead of the FMLN, which began as a leftwing guerilla movement fighting the US-backed Salvadoran government during the Central American country's 12-year civil war, which left some 75,000 people dead.
He first took power along with President Mauricio Funes, a popular TV journalist, in 2009, ending two decades of conservative rule in the wake of El Salvador's civil war. The pair ran on a platform of popular social programs, including handing out free school supplies to children and pensions for the elderly.
Quijano, 67, campaigned for a tough approach towards the rampant gang violence that has plagued the country of around 6 million people. While he favors deploying the military to help combat street gangs, Ceren has proposed a program to reintegrate ex-gang members into society.
"More than ever we need a new national accord, so that we do not have partisan policies but policies that are backed by all the people of El Salvador," he said after voting on Sunday.
Third-party candidate Antonio Saca, trailed far behind with around 11 percent support. He served as president from 2004 to 2009 as a member of ARENA, but left the party amid a corruption scandal after leaving office.
The winner of election will be inaugurated June 1.
dr/av (Reuters, AFP)