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The left may win big in Costa Rica, El Salvador elections (VIDEO)

Voters in both Central American countries of El Salvador and Costa Rica headed to the polls Sunday to choose a new president. Both votes are likely to end in runoffs.

Costa rica elections 2014 02 02Enlarge
Leftist Costa Rican presidential candidate Jose Maria Villalta (C) waves to supporters after voting in the country's presidential election on Feb. 2, 2014. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images)

The left may loom large in Sunday's presidential elections in Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Costa Rica's centrist ruling party frontrunner hoped to fend off a leftist surge fueled by voter resentment over government corruption scandals and rising inequality as voters in Central America's second-largest economy headed to the polls.

More from GlobalPost: Corruption, poverty charge Costa Rica election

While in El Salvador, voters weighed whether to keep the ruling leftist party in power or return to conservative right-wing party rule.

Former San Jose Mayor Johnny Araya, a member of the ruling centrist party, led polls in Costa Rica on promises to reduce poverty. But he also attempted to distance himself from President Laura Chinchilla's scandal-plagued government, painting his rivals as radicals.

Voter anger over government corruption there has buoyed a challenge from leftist lawmaker Jose Maria Villalta, who has also promised to tackle inequality.

Five candidates sought to succeed El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

More from GlobalPost: Ex-rebel faces gang-fighting conservative in El Salvador vote

Leading the poll is Funes's vice president, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, 69, a former civil war guerrilla commander. He is followed by ex-San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, 67, of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance.

If no candidate obtains 50 percent support, the two top vote-getters will meet again in a runoff scheduled for March 9.

In Costa Rica, a runoff will be held in April if none of the 13 candidates garners more than 40 percent of the vote, which is expected. It would be only the second time in Costa Rican history.

AFP and Reuters contributed to this report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/140202/leftist-surges-presidential-elections-costa-ri-0