The Afghan presidential election is likely to move into a second round, despite former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah’s apparent lead in the latest vote count released by the country’s Independent Election Commission.
Yousaf Nuristani, head of the commission, said on April 24 that preliminary results based on almost 83 percent of the votes counted showed Abdullah in the lead with nearly 44 percent, followed by former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani with nearly 33 percent.
Another former Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rasul, is in a distant third place with 11 percent of the vote. Former warlord Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf gathered some seven percent of the ballots counted. Other candidates were far behind.
Abdullah is still far from securing more than 50 percent of valid ballots, the threshold required by Afghan law to win the election in the first round.
If no candidate reaches this threshold, a runoff is to be held in late May.
Nuristani told journalists that he anticipated a second round. "When you look at the percentage of votes secured by various candidates you develop doubts about anyone winning in the first round."
The election, which will produce a successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled the country since a U.S.-led military operation ousted the Taliban in 2001, is seen as a crucial element in Afghanistan’s political transition.
Most international troops are expected to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.
The April 5 vote has been hailed for a high turnout of around 58 percent.
Despite threats to disrupt the process, the Taliban failed to carry out any major attacks during the voting.
Although officials and leading candidates have claimed that the election was marred by significant electoral fraud, observers expect less tampering with the process overall than occurred in the 2009 election.
The preliminary final results are expected to be announced on April 26.
The final vote count from the April 5 election is due to be released on May 14.