El Salvador’s ex-rebel poised to win presidency

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A man sells coffee in front of a car with electoral propaganda for the current Vice President and presidential candidate of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, FMLN, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday March. 6, 2014. El Salvador will hold a runoff election on March 9, between Sanchez Ceren and Norman Quijano, presidential candidate of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, ARENA. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

A man sells coffee in front of a car with electoral propaganda for the current Vice President and presidential candidate of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, FMLN, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday March. 6, 2014. El Salvador will hold a runoff election on March 9, between Sanchez Ceren and Norman Quijano, presidential candidate of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, ARENA. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano, the candidate of the Nationalist Republican Alliance, known as ARENA, shakes hands with a supporter who is waiting in line to acquire his national identification card that will allow him to vote, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Friday, March 7, 2014. A former Marxist guerrilla who has promised to continue the government’s popular social programs is poised to win El Salvador’s presidential election runoff on Sunday, giving the ruling party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, a second consecutive term. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Relatives of an alleged gang member cry as forensic workers examine the young man’s body, abandoned on the shoulder of a road in Nejapa, on the outskirt of San Salvador, El Salvador, Friday March. 7, 2014. Gang violence is one of the main issues for voters who head to the polls Sunday to elect a president in the country’s runoff. Killings are on the rise so far this year, despite a 2012 gang truce that was billed as cutting the country’s daily average of 14 murders in half. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Forensic workers lift into the bed of a truck, a body of an alleged gang member found on the shoulder of a road in Nejapa, on the outskirts of San Salvador, El Salvador, Friday, March. 7, 2014. Gang violence is one of the main issues for voters who head to the polls Sunday to elect a president in the country’s runoff. Killings are on the rise so far this year, despite a 2012 gang truce that was billed as cutting the country’s daily average of 14 murders in half. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

People eat in an informal cafe at a local market, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Friday, March 7, 2014. Gang violence is one of the main issues for voters who head to the polls Sunday to elect a president in the country’s runoff. A former Marxist guerrilla who has promised to continue the government’s popular social programs is poised to win El Salvador’s presidential election runoff on Sunday, giving the ruling party a second consecutive term. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — A former Marxist guerrilla who has promised to continue the government’s popular social programs is poised to win El Salvador’s presidential election runoff on Sunday, giving the ruling party a second consecutive term.

Most polls show Salvador Sanchez Ceren, 69, of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, with a lead that ranges from 10 to 18 percentage points ahead of San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano, the candidate of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance, known as ARENA.

Quijano, 67, campaigned with Cold War references to the country’s 12-year civil war, in which the United States backed the Salvadoran government against the FMLN to stop the spread of communism in Latin America. Quijano said Sanchez Ceren, one of the top rebel commanders, would take the Central American country down a communist path and invoked images of Venezuela’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez.

“The FMLN proposals are based in giving the country’s sovereignty to Venezuela,” he said during the campaign.

But analysts say the strategy backfired in the country of 6 million people more concerned with gang violence and a sluggish economy than ghosts of the past.

“(It) only works with one sector of society, the most conservative one in Salvadoran society, which is still afraid of an electoral victory by the FMLN,” said political analyst Alvaro Artiga.

Sanchez Ceren said he will take a moderate approach to government like that of his presidential model, Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica, another former guerrilla who formed an inclusive government.

El Salvador has had one of the highest murder rates in the world, even with a 2012 gang truce that was billed as cutting the country’s daily average of 14 dead — the majority gang members — in half.

Current President Mauricio Funes, a former television journalist who never participated in the war, was elected in 2009 as the FMLN’s first, unseating decades of ARENA governments. Sanchez Ceren would be the first true guerrilla to lead the country. He helped negotiate the 1992 Peace Accords that ended the war that left 76,000 people dead and 12,000 missing.

He campaigned door to door while his party worked to paint ARENA as the party of corruption. Funes pushed the investigation of former ARENA President Francisco Flores, formerly Quijano’s campaign manager, over the destination of millions in aid he received from Taiwan.

Quijano criticized Funes for negotiating with criminals based in coming up with the truce between the country’s two largest and most dangerous gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street.

After an initial drop in killings in 2013, murders are on the rise again so far this year. According to police, between Jan. 1 and March 1, there were 501 murders, 106 more than in the same period of 2013. And many dead are starting to be discovered in mass graves, fueling criticism that the truce didn’t nothing more than cause the gangs to hide their victims and create the illusion of less

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