A retired right-wing general promising to stamp out spiralling crime took an early lead in Guatemala's Sunday presidential election that he was favoured to win.
With 25% of votes counted Otto Perez was leading on 54.85% support, according to a tally from the electoral commission. Most of the votes counted were from rural areas. Centrist rival Manuel Baldizon was on 45.15%.
Supporters of the silver-haired Perez, 60, believe he is the best candidate to tackle lawlessness and violence in the coffee- and sugar-exporting country, which has one of the highest murder rates in the Americas.
Although some fret about Perez's military past and his role in a 36-year civil war, polls ahead of the presidential vote showed him well ahead of Baldizon, a businessman with a message to help the elderly and the poor.
Both Perez and Baldizon, 41, say they will boost security spending but Perez has made a promise of a mano dura, or firm hand against crime, his campaign slogan.
Besides the inbred violence of the country there are also strong indications that Guatemalan politics have become strongly influenced by the drug cartels from neighbouring Mexico that have been on the run since President Felipe Calderon sent the Army to fight them and have moved south to Guatemala.