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El Salvador's presidential election too close to call

MEXICO CITY — El Salvador's presidential runoff was so close Sunday night that election officials declined to name a winner until a final count Monday.

Adding to the confusion of the evening, left- and right-wing parties each declared victory, while conservative candidate Norman Quijano, who was trailing by just a few thousand votes, alleged in a blistering speech that the count was fraudulent.

With nearly 3 million votes tallied — more than 99% of the total — Quijano, of the right-wing Arena party, was trailing Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who was a leftist guerrilla during the country's civil war, by 4,403 votes, according to the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Quijano had 49.93% of the votes, while Sanchez had 50.07%.

In the early evening, the head of the electoral tribunal, Eugenio Chicas, said the vote was so close that a winner would not be declared until Monday, according to local news reports.

Shortly thereafter, Quijano, a former mayor of San Salvador, the nation's capital, went before hundreds of supporters there and denounced the tribunal's decision to delay the count. Quijano argued that his party had won and that the tribunal had been "bought and corrupted" by the leftist party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN. The Salvadoran armed forces, he said, "were watching out for this fraud."

Such fiery rhetoric is likely to raise alarm in a country that was engulfed in a civil war from 1979 to 1992, when the FMLN was an armed guerrilla group. As the tight election shows, the country remains deeply divided over the best way to lift a large chunk of the population from enduring poverty and to solve increasingly dire problems of gang violence and transnational drug shipments.

Medardo Gonzalez, a congressman from the FMLN, said Sunday that the vote showed that "the Salvadoran people decided to give the majority of the vote to Salvador Sanchez Ceren," according to the newspaper El Diario de Hoy.

Sanchez Ceren won the first electoral round with 49% of the vote in a three-way race; he was forced into a runoff because he did not receive more than 50%.

richard.fausset@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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