SAN SALVADOR — El Salvador’s too-close-to-call presidential runoff election has raised competing claims of victory from a former fighter for leftist guerrillas and the once long-ruling conservative party that fought a civil war from 1980 to 1992.
Norman Quijano, the candidate of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, said his party was on ‘‘a war footing’’ and vowed ‘‘to fight with our lives, if necessary’’ to defend what he claimed was his victory.
But with preliminary returns in from nearly all polling stations on Monday, he was behind Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the leftist candidate of the now governing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN. The margin of 6,634 votes was just over 0.2 percent of the approximately 3 million ballots cast.
Sanchez Ceren also claimed to have won.
‘‘The men and women of El Salvador are the ones who decide, and if you don’t accept the result, you are violating the will of the people,’’ Sanchez Ceren said. ‘‘I say to my adversary, to his party, that my administration will welcome them with open arms, so that together we can build a new country.’’
A final count of votes began Monday, but Electoral Tribunal president Eugenio Chicas said the outcome was probably irreversible.
He said votes would be recounted only at about 21 polling places where problems were detected or alleged. The average polling place in the country has about 285 votes.
‘The numbers aren’t big enough to overcome the difference, but we should wait for the final count.’
‘‘The numbers aren’t big enough to overcome the difference, but we should wait for the final count,’’ Chicas said. ‘‘The 4,000 challenged votes won’t make up the difference.’’
ARENA asked the country’s attorney general to consider stepping in to oversee the recount and it officially petitioned electoral authorities to do a vote-by-vote recount.
The election results were surprising, considering that opinion polls in the weeks leading up to the election had put Quijano, the former mayor of San Salvador, 10 to 18 percentage points behind Sanchez Ceren. Roy Campos, president of the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm, said Quijano’s ads comparing the FMLN to Venezuela’s leftist leaders, protests, and economic scarcity may have worked, creating a situation where some voters ‘‘felt El Salvador was in danger.’’
‘‘Venezuela was an important factor,’’ Campos said.
Quijano alleged ballot fraud and called on the army to play a role, a statement that carries ominous echoes in a country where 76,000 people died in the civil war, which pitted the army against the leftist rebels.
‘‘We are not going to allow Venezuelan-style fraud, in the style of Chavez and Maduro,’’ Quijano said, referring to the late president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. ‘‘We have our own recount, which shows we won.’’
Quijano criticized the electoral tribunal, saying it ‘‘sold out to the dictatorship.’’
‘‘The armed forces are ready to make democracy,’’ he said.
The country’s military leaders made no comment on the elections.
Sanchez Ceren, 69, warned against any return to the violence of the past.
‘‘I want to say to all those who are inciting violence that they are on the wrong track,’’ he said. “The people have decided to continue on the path of change, and the people cannot be stopped.’’