A former leftwing guerrilla leader took a strong early lead in El Salvador’s presidential election on Sunday but he could still face a run-off against a conservative rival who wants to deploy the army to fight powerful street gangs, early results showed. Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a rebel commander who rose to the top of the now-ruling leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) during El Salvador’s civil war, had 49.2% support with votes in from about 45.4% of polling booths. His rightwing opponent, former San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, had 38.9%. If no one wins more than half of the vote, the two leading candidates will go to a run-off on March 9.
Two foreign election officials said they expected the vote to go to a run-off given a closer race in El Salvador’s two most populated districts.
The FMLN took power at the last election in 2009 and Sanchez Ceren’s campaign was helped by its popular welfare policies, including pensions and free school supplies.
“The Front is going to win because of the poor. They are giving us opportunities. My kids would not have been able to study without their help,” said housewife Patricia Concepcion, 43, as voting wrapped up. Even if he falls short of first-round victory, Sanchez Ceren appears to be in a strong position ahead of the run-off.