DILI—Nobel peace prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta took a commanding lead in the vote count after a run-off poll to pick tiny East Timor's next president, the election commission said on Thursday.
"In most districts he is leading with around 50 to 80 percent of the votes," commission spokeswoman Maria Angelina Sarmento said, adding it was likely the winner would be known by the evening.
She said Ramos-Horta, now the young nation's prime minister, was the clear winner in one district where counting had ended.
"The margin between candidate number one and candidate number two is big," Sarmento added, referring to Ramos-Horta and his opponent, former guerrilla Francisco Guterres, respectively.
The bespectacled Ramos-Horta, who spearheaded an overseas campaign for East Timor's independence, said he expected to get 70 or 80 percent of the vote.
"I am ready to be the president now and I will make good on my promises to resolve the crisis and the refugee problem."
A regional split erupted into bloodshed last May after the sacking of 600 mutinous troops from the western region. Foreign troops were brought in to restore order but 30,000 people remain in camps across Dili, too afraid to go home.
Wednesday's polls passed peacefully, with few reports of glitches, in contrast to the first-round vote a month ago which was marred by complaints of widespread irregularities.
Dili also appeared calm on Thursday and people were quietly sitting on the beach front near the government palace.
Only small groups of international soldiers could be seen patrolling near the capital's court complex.
Ramos-Horta, a 57-year-old former journalist, also pledged to work closely with the international community.
"I will accelerate economic development, bring foreign investors and work to eradicate poverty in this nation".
Friendly to West
Ramos-Horta and Guterres–a former independence fighter nicknamed "Lu'Olo" and president of the ruling Fretilin party–won the most votes in the first round, but none of the eight candidates won a clear majority, forcing the extra round.
Fretilin spokesman Filomeni Aleixo told Reuters the party would respect the results.
"Whatever the result for Fretilin we are ready to accept it with dignity, but counting is not finished yet", he added, accusing opponents of making unrealistic promises.
Slightly more than half-a-million people were eligible to vote in the election and turnout is expected to have approached the 82 percent seen in the first round.
Ramos-Horta won backing from five of the first-round losers. Analysts said this gave him a strong advantage even though Guterres enjoys strong grassroots support in many areas and has the powerful Fretilin party machine behind him.
Outgoing President Xanana Gusmao will now run for the post of prime minister.
Ramos-Horta is widely viewed as more friendly to the West and economic globalisation, while Guterres and Fretilin take a more leftist and nationalist line. Both candidates say they want more foreign investment.
Although the benefits have yet to flow in a significant way to many of its impoverished people, East Timor is rich in energy resources such as offshore natural gas, and produces a much-sought-after variety of coffee.