A run-off vote appears necessary as the counting of votes in East Timor's presidential election gets under way. The first week of May is being set as a preliminary date. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has more from the capital Dili.

East Timor's vote count got under way Tuesday, a day after a large number of people turned out to vote for the country's president.

With no serious reports of violence or anomalies during the voting process hopes are high here that a peaceful election will bring stability to the troubled nation.

Father Martinho Gusmao, the National Election Committee spokesman, called the election fair and transparent.

"So far we see the fairness and equality, independence and transparency," he said. "So far we established a sense of democracy."

Eight candidates are running for the largely ceremonial post to replace the respected independence leader Xanana Gusmao. He plans to run for the more powerful position of prime minister in the June parliamentary elections.

With about 20 percent of the votes counted, Father Gusmao says a run-off looks likely with May 8 the probable date.

The winner must gain more than 50 percent of the vote, or a run-off will be necessary between the two candidates with the largest number of votes.

The count shows the current prime minister and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta with a slight lead over the Democratic Party leader Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo. A Fretilin spokesman said their candidate Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres is also performing strongly.

Jose Ramos Horta says because he is well known in the country he did not need to do much campaigning.

"They have known me for a long time. [I do not need much campaigning]," he said. "Probably I am one of the few candidates whose name is known in the country, whose face is known. They know I can offer them hope, they know I can work with them."

Araujo says those who voted for him want a change in the country's leadership.

"I think they want change. They want a new generation to lead this county," he said.

East Timor fell into renewed violence a year ago when a third of the armed forces was fired, setting off fighting between security forces that soon became street gang warfare.

Two thirds of the residents of Dili fled to makeshift refugee camps where over 40,000 remain. Order was only restored after the government requested an international peacekeeping force that is still in the country.

East Timor, which voted for independence from Indonesia's 24-year iron fisted rule in 1999, only became fully independent five years ago after several years of U.N. supervision.