A former Marxist rebel who has promised to continue the government's popular social programmes 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, the Associated Press news agency reported.

[Quijano's 'Cold War strategy'] 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

Alvaro Artiga, political analyst

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.

Gang violence

Sanchez Ceren said he will take a moderate approach to government like that of his presidential model, Uruguay's President Jose Mujica, another former rebel 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 rebel fighter 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 has said he would fight crime by boosting community investment, better education and fortified police, and continue Funes' social programmes, including giving books, shoes and uniforms to school children, seeds and fertilisers to the poorest farmers and a small pension to the elderly.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies