San Salvador: El Salvador voted Sunday in tightly contested congressional elections, with leftist President Salvador Sanchez Ceren seeking broader legislative support for his efforts to fight gang violence racking the country.
Since Sanchez Ceren took office in June last year, he has had to strike alliances with small right-wing parties to achieve a majority and overcome fierce opposition from conservative foe ARENA, the party his FMLN ousted from power in the 2009 elections.
The FMLN and ARENA fought each other in a bloody civil war that lasted from 1980 to 1992, and the divide between them still dominates the country`s politics.
The FMLN had a narrow lead heading into the vote, but it was within the margin of error.
Opinion polls predicted the 84-member legislature would remain deeply split, with neither party achieving the 43 seats needed for a simple majority.
Polling stations closed at 5:00 pm (2300 GMT) without any major incidents being reported. The first results were expected around 0400 GMT Monday.
The FMLN will likely have to woo ARENA votes on matters requiring a two-thirds majority, including judicial appointments and international bond issues -- a key point for Sanchez Ceren, who needs loans to fund his $2.1 billion initiative to fight gang violence.
El Salvador is in the grips of gruesome violence perpetrated by rival drug gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, whose members are known for sporting full-body tattoos and subjecting recruits to bloody initiation rituals.
The gangs, or "maras," emerged in Latino neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980s and arrived in El Salvador when the United States deported thousands of immigrants who had fled north to escape the civil war.
Fueled largely by gang violence, the homicide rate in El Salvador is the fourth-highest in the world, 41.2 a year per 100,000 inhabitants.
Gangs have an estimated 50,000 members on the streets in El Salvador and another 10,000 in prison.
In Sunday`s elections, Salvadorans are also electing 262 mayors and local councils and 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament.