A former guerilla leader in Indonesia's Aceh province appears headed for victory, after taking the lead in several preliminary "quick counts" of the region's first ever direct elections for governor and other top positions. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has more from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

A former commander of the separatist Free Aceh Movement, Irawandi Yusuf, appeared headed for victory late Monday evening just hours after Aceh's historic polls closed.

Two "quick counts" showed Irawandi with a lead of more than the requisite 25 percent of the vote over his seven gubernatorial rivals.

Denny Janvar Ali, chairman of the Indonesian Survey Circle, a respected local pollster, says his organizations quick count clearly shows Irawandi in the lead.

"Actually, we have very clear the winner, Irawandi Yusuf, that got very strong support, 39 percent, so there will be no second round for this governor election," said Denny Janvar Ali.

Paul Rowland, the country representative for the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. funded organization that promotes democracy and has lent its technical support to Jurdil, a local election observation organization, says their "quick count" shows Irawandi with almost 39 percent of the vote.

"The projection is showing, that the Irawandi - Nazir team has won in a first round, which is a somewhat surprising result," said Paul Rowland. "It's surprising in a field of eight candidates [that] it's possible to get over the 25 percent threshold. None of the public domain research we've seen in the pre-election period showed this kind of result."

The peaceful elections are being hailed as a landmark for the peace process that began in August 2005, after the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, signed a peace agreement with the government ending a nearly 29-year bloody conflict that claimed the lives of more than 15,000 people.

Irawandi appeared elated with the news of his apparent lead, saying he would focus on the economy and rebuilding Aceh, which lost most of its infrastructure in the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed the lives of over 160,000 people here.

"My priority is the grassroots economy," he said. "Reconstruction is also a focus."

Officials says the final results of the Aceh elections for governor and deputy governor as well as mayors and regents will not be announced until early January.