DILI, EAST TIMOR - An unofficial vote count shows a former guerrilla leader has won East Timor's presidency in the first election without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.
The tally announced Tuesday by the country's election office indicated that Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres had a commanding lead over the Democratic Party's Antonio da Conceicao, who is minister of education and social affairs.
Official results are not expected until next week, but with more than 70 percent of the ballots tallied, Lu-Olo, a 62-year-old former guerrilla commander representing Fretilin, the traditional party of resistance to Indonesian rule, had 60 percent of the votes. Da Conceicao had 30 percent and said he would accept the outcome. The remaining votes were divided among six other candidates.
East Timor's president has a mostly ceremonial role.
East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that killed more than 170,000 people. Indonesia's military and pro-Indonesian militias responded to the independence referendum with scorched earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island.
The young nation's transition to democracy has been rocky, with its leaders battling massive poverty, unemployment and corruption as it continues to struggle with the legacy of its bloody independence battle.
It was Lu-Olo's third attempt to win the presidency since 2007, when Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, secured an easy victory over him in a second-round vote. Lu-Olo lost to current President Taur Matan Ruak in the 2012 election, but this time he had strong support from resistance hero and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who remains influential in politics.
"This is the decision from the voters, from the people," Lu-Olo said. "Changes will happen in many aspects, and fundamentally, I want to change the people's condition in health services, education and have a sustainable economy to accelerate national development."
Ruak, also a former guerrilla fighter, was not up for re-election and is expected to make a run for prime minister in July's parliamentary elections.
"We have voted based on our own choice," Ruak said. "I am grateful to all people for a peaceful election. This will result in greatness for our people and the nation."
Jacarias Meta, who was among the more than 740,000 eligible voters, said he hoped the economy would improve.
"This election is crucial for the future of our nation," said Meta, a 50-year-old farmer. "I want to see a new president who can bring positive change to society."