A retired right-wing general promising to stamp out spiralling crime took an early lead in Guatemala's presidential election on Sunday that he was favoured to win.

With 25 percent of votes counted Otto Perez was leading on 54.85 percent 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 percent.

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.

I'm voting for General Otto Perez Molina because he's an ex-military man, said Jose Efrain Castillo, 73, a school bus driver who believes the former general has a better chance of cutting the murder rate than Baldizon.