SAN SALVADOR — The Christian Democratic Party of President Jose Napoleon Duarte claimed victory over its rightist opponents Sunday in elections for the country's powerful National Assembly.
An independent exit poll, conducted during the day's voting, projected that the Christian Democrats would win at least 32 of the assembly's 60 seats. Such a majority would reverse the balance of power in the single-chamber legislature, now dominated by the right-wing opposition.
Official returns indicating the assembly's composition are expected today or Tuesday, and the new legislature will take office May 1.
Control of the assembly is crucial to Duarte's plans for changing social and economic conditions that he says are partly to blame for the war being waged by Marxist-led guerrillas. Since Duarte won the presidency 10 months ago, many of his reforms have been thwarted by conservative assembly members.
Although scattered skirmishes and other violent incidents were reported Sunday, the war did not disrupt the voting, in which 262 municipal governments also were elected.
Jose Antonio Morales Ehrlich, secretary general of the Christian Democratic Party, proclaimed victory in the assembly elections not long after polls closed Sunday evening.
"Yes, I declare it. We have won the majority in the assembly," Morales declared, saying his claim was based on incomplete and unofficial returns called in by the party's poll watchers around the country.
The U.S.-based Spanish International Network, a Spanish-language television outlet, conducted an exit survey of 11,735 voters.
The network said the survey indicated that the Christian Democrats would win at least 32 seats and possibly 33. The network said an electoral coalition of the right-wing Arena party and the conservative National Conciliation Party would win at least 22 seats but no more than 25.
The previous assembly elections, in 1982, gave the two coalition parties a total of 33 seats and the Christian Democrats 24. The three remaining seats that year were won by two small parties. The network said that its margin of error in the survey was about 4% in each of El Salvador's 14 provinces.
Results of an an exit poll conducted by the network during the 1984 presidential runoff gave Duarte 54% of the vote. Official returns later gave him 53.6%.
Morales said voter turnout Sunday seemed to have been somewhat lighter than it was in last year's presidential balloting, when 1.5 million of the nation's 2.4 million eligible citizens voted.
The most prominent candidate for the assembly Sunday was Roberto D'Aubuisson, a former military officer who heads the Arena party. Duarte defeated D'Aubuisson in the presidential runoff last May.
D'Aubuisson's party has led opposition forces in the assembly in blocking reform programs supported by Duarte. Arena also has opposed peace talks between the government and the Marxist-led guerrillas.
Duarte suspended the peace talks after the second round in November, but he has promised to resume them after the elections.
Outside the capital, voting took place on the central plazas of the main towns and cities with no significant violence reported.
"All the areas where we thought there would be conflict have been calm," Salvadoran army Col. Benjamin Ramos told U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, who was one of three American election observers visiting Chalatenango, the capital of the province of the same name.
But clashes between the army and guerrillas were reported in three rural areas to the east of San Salvador and two to the north. Military sources said that several guerrillas were killed.
The guerrillas had warned all vehicles to stay off highways, and traffic between cities was light. Two cars were burned in the eastern province of Morazan, and a seminary student was killed and another was wounded in a separate highway shooting, according to radio reports.