Independence leader Xanana Gusmao has been declared the winner of East Timor's presidential election. The former guerrilla commander, who won more than 80 percent of the votes, now faces the challenges of leading on of the world's newest countries towards economic recovery and political stability.

United Nations officials and East Timorese leaders have congratulated Xanana Gusmao on his election win. The head of the U.N. mission in East Timor, Sergio de Mello, says he trusts Mr. Gusmao will fulfill the "noble pledges" he made during his campaign. East Timor's prime minister Mari Alkatiri not always an easy political ally -- offered his congratulations to Mr. Gusmao from "the depths of his heart."

Mr. Gusmao who ran on a platform of reconciliation and national unity -- won 82.7 percent of the ballots cast in Sunday's poll. His only opponent, Franciso Xavier do Amaral, won 17.3 percent of the vote. The remaining ballots were declared invalid.

Nearly 400,000 people turned out to cast their ballots in the first presidential election since East Timor voted to break free of Indonesian rule in August 1999. With the election of a Constituent Assembly last year, the presidential poll is the last step towards forming a government ahead of independence, slated for May 20.

The United Nations has administered East Timor for the past two years. Its mandate includes helping the East Timorese form a legitimate government and helping rebuild much of the territory. East Timor is still recovering from violence carried out by anti-independence militia groups in the weeks before and after its independence vote. Hundreds of people were killed.

It is now up to Mr. Gusmao and other East Timorese leaders to continue that reconstruction, after the bulk of the U.N. mission withdraws in May. That may be difficult. Some observers point to evidence of a rift growing between Mr. Gusmao and Prime Minister Alkatiri over the direction the new government will take.

On Wednesday however, Mr. Alkatiri dismissed questions of a split between the two leaders. He says he is prepared to work alongside Mr. Gusmao.

Under East Timor's new government, the president will play a largely symbolic role. As Prime Minister, Mr. Alkatiri and his majority party, Fretelin, will have a greater role in decision-making.

East Timor will continue to need international financial assistance before it can stand on its own as an independent nation. Analysts say it is crucial for the East Timorese leadership to get along, if they want that aid to continue to come in.