East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta conceded defeat on Monday in his bid to win a second term in office.
With more than 70 percent of the ballots counted, results show Francisco Guterres, from the main opposition Fretilin party, ahead with about 28 percent of the vote. He is followed by former military chief Jose Maria de Vasconcelos with 25 percent. They will go on to a run-off election in mid-April.
President Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace laureate, trailed with about 18 percent. In a news conference Monday, Ramos-Horta congratulated the two candidates and said he is ready to step down.
"At stroke of midnight, May 19, I will hand over the leadership of the country to the new president, to one of
the two who are now going on to the second round,'' Ramos-Horta said.
Australian National University analyst Peter McCawley told VOA the two front runners are both well known figures who have been active in Timorese politics for some time.
“Looking ahead, they will face all of the well-known problems of governance in East Timor," McCawley said. "The fact that they have managed to pull ahead of the field a bit doesn’t really put them in a strong position. They will still have to deal with a highly volatile, highly contested situation.”
Official results are not expected until Tuesday.
In a statement released Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended East Timor for conducting elections in an atmosphere of order and calm.
Voters cast their ballots Saturday in the second presidential election since East Timor, one of the world's youngest and poorest nations, won independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Violence in 2006 nearly plunged the country into civil war, but officials reported no unrest during Saturday's election.
If the presidential run-off and an upcoming parliamentary vote in June run smoothly, a contingent of U.N. and Australian peacekeepers is scheduled to pull out of the country by the end of this year.