Ex-rebel leads in El Salvador presidential run-off - poll

SAN SALVADOR Wed Feb 12, 2014 4:10pm EST

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SAN SALVADOR Feb 12 (Reuters) - An ex-Marxist guerrilla pledging to expand social programs is set to win El Salvador's presidency in a March vote by 10 percent over a right-wing challenger who promised a crackdown on crime, a CID-Gallup poll said Wednesday.

The CID-Gallup poll projected Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a top leader of leftist rebels during El Salvador's civil war, would win 55 percent of the vote versus 45 percent for his conservative rival, Norman Quijano.

The poll was carried out in interviews with 1,400 voters and has a margin of error of 2.7 percent.

Sanchez Ceren, of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), won nearly 49 percent of votes in the first round, just short of 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

He will now face off on March 9 against Quijano, from the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) party, who won almost 39 percent of the vote and wants to deploy the army to fight powerful street gangs.

The FMLN became a political party at the end of El Salvador's 12-year civil war in 1992, and it won power in 2009. Sanchez Ceren was vice-president in that government and his campaign was helped by its popular welfare policies, including pensions and free school supplies.

Sanchez Ceren seems poised to pick up some of the votes that went to a third-party conservative candidate, Antonio Saca, a former president who came third in the first round with 11.4 percent support.

A Sanchez Ceren presidency might boost the influence of Venezuela's socialist government in the region. Sanchez Ceren has said he will seek to join the South American country's Petrocaribe oil bloc, which provides allies, often leftists, with cheap energy. (Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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