El Salvador's presidential race appears headed for a runoff

MEXICO CITY – A runoff presidential election appeared likely in El Salvador after leftist Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the top vote-getter, narrowly missed winning outright, according to preliminary election results Monday.

With more than 99% of the votes counted, Sanchez Ceren, a former guerrilla leader, received nearly 49% support in Sunday’s election. Sanchez Ceren appeared headed for a March 9 runoff against the second-place candidate, Norman Quijano, who received about 39% of the vote. A candidate needed more than 50% of the votes to avoid the runoff.

“We’re happy,” Sanchez said in a news conference late Sunday night. “We are sure that in the second round [the victory] won’t be by 10 points. It will be by more than 10 points.”

The runoff, however, could prove to be a tighter race. A second conservative candidate, Antonio Saca, took 11% of the vote Sunday, and his supporters could switch to Quijano.

Sanchez’s party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, converted from a leftist rebel group to a political party after El Salvador’s civil war wound down in the early 1990s.

In Costa Rica, voters will return to the polls for a runoff April 6 after centrist ruling party candidate Johnny Araya and leftist Luis Guillermo Solis each earned roughly 30% of the vote in polling Sunday.

richard.fausset@latimes.com

Twitter: @RichardFausset

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