Vote counting continues in Peru's hotly contested presidential election, with nationalist firebrand Ollanta Humala solidifying his position as top vote-getter. Former President Alan Garcia has pulled ahead of a center-right attorney in a close battle for second place, and with every passing hour it appears increasingly likely Garcia will face Humala in a final round of balloting next month.

Election results continue to trickle in from remote regions of Peru, as well as from Peruvian embassies and consulates in foreign lands. Since polling stations closed Sunday, nationalist ex-military officer Ollanta Humala has seen his lead increase by several percentage points to more than 30 percent of the vote. Former President Alan Garcia's total has remained relatively stable at about 25 percent, while attorney Lourdes Flores, who hoped to become Peru's first female leader, has seen her vote total decline from 26 percent to less than 24 percent.

To many political analysts, Garcia's lead over Flores, though small, looks hard to reverse, given that results have already been tabulated from most polling stations in urban areas, where Flores' support is strongest.

But Flores says she has no intention of conceding defeat until all ballots are counted and the results confirmed. For his part, Garcia has steadfastly refused to claim victory. Election officials say it could be days, or even weeks, before final, complete results are known.

Lima schoolteacher Alejandra Sanz says she would have liked to see Humala win the presidency outright with an absolute majority in Sunday's first round of balloting.

"We need someone with a strong hand to put an end to corruption," she said. "This country needs someone like Humala or [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez."

But hair stylist Maria Sanchez says she is bitterly disappointed that Lourdes Flores did not get more votes.

"I wanted Lourdes to win," said Maria Sanchez. "But here we have a male-dominated country and people are poorly informed. They say, 'I am going to vote for Ollanta because he was a military officer and will bring change.' I think they are wrong."

Sanchez says she could never support Humala, and has no choice but to vote for Alan Garcia in the second round.

Housemaid Beatriz Gonzalez also says she voted for Flores, but will back Humala if the choice is between him and Garcia, whose first term in office in the late 1980s was marked by hyper-inflation and near economic collapse.

"Alan defrauded us once before and left us with nothing," she said. "I fear we would go back to long lines for rice and sugar [if Garcia wins]."

Observers say many political parties that lost in the first round of balloting are likely to come out against Humala - and what are perceived as his authoritarian leanings - in the second round. Whether voters would follow suit remains to be seen.