Al Jazeera's Hamish MacDonald said that with eight candidates running for the presidency, the vote is unlikely to produce an immediate result.
One more vote than 50 per cent is required to secure the presidency, so it is statistically unlikely there will be an outright winner.
Jose Ramos-Horta, Independent
Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres, Revolutionary Front of an Independent Timor-Leste (Fretilin)
Fernando 'Lasama' De Araujo, Democratic Party
Francisco Xavier do Amaral, Timorese Social Democratic Association
Joao Carrascalao, Democratic Timorese Party
Lucia Lobato, Social Democrat Party
Avelino Coelho da Silva, Timorese Socialist Party
Manuel Tilman, Sons of the Mountain Warriors
Jose Ramos-Horta, the prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had initially been considered a sure winner for the presidency, currently held by Xanana Gusmao, the popular former resistance leader.
But the most likely result now seems to be a run-off between two of the three front-running candidates; Ramos-Horta, Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres, candidate for the Fretilin party and Fernando 'LaSama' De Araujo, the leader of the Democratic Party.
"I haven't actually followed much the results, although different people keep calling me about how much I am winning here and there. And the winning has been substantial throughout the capital, Dili, and in some areas of the districts. But I prefer to wait until the official result is in," Ramos-Horta told Al Jazeera after polls closed.
There have been concerns that violence could erupt if the Fretilin party candidate loses and there have been claims of voter intimidation by Fretilin supporters in some districts.
"Intimidation tactics have been widespread in some districts and sub-districts by hardliner Fretilin elements and including by some top officials, but definitely not condoned by the top leadership ... they are completely against it. It has been very counter-productive to Fretilin's credibility," Ramos-Horta added.
More than 2,800 foreign troops and police officers were deployed across the country for Monday's vote.
The post of president is largely ceremonial in East Timor, but analysts see Monday's vote as a trial run for more crucial general elections in June that will determine the composition of a new government and parliament.
|Many voters expressed fears of further |
violence after the result is known [AFP]
It will also gauge public support for a plan by Ramos-Horta and Gusmao, who will run for prime minister, to seize control of parliament from the powerful left-wing Fretilin party.
East Timor descended into chaos last year after 600 soldiers – more than a third of the country's army - were fired, triggering gun battles between opposing police and army factions that spiralled into gang warfare, looting and general lawlessness.
Dozens of people were killed and tens of thousands fled their homes before the collapse of the government.
Though international troops curbed the worst of the violence, analysts say the underlying causes remain unresolved - intense political and regional rivalries dating back to Indonesia's 24-year occupation, economic stagnation and a failure to bring to justice perpetrators of past crimes.
Whoever wins the vote will face tremendous challenges, from reconciling deep social divisions and restoring law and order to returning tens of thousands of refugees to their homes.