Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah retained his lead in the race to succeed Hamid Karzai, after the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan announced partial results with about half of all votes counted.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, garnered 44 percent of about 3.5 million ballots, putting him in “first position,” Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, the commission’s chairman, told reporters in the capital Kabul. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official, was in second place with 33 percent, Nuristani said.
The results indicate a possible run-off between Abdullah and Ghani. Afghanistan’s constitution requires such a step if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of all votes cast. Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister, received 10 percent of the ballots, while Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, who served as a member of parliament, took 7 percent, according to the commission.
Karzai, the outgoing president, has delayed signing a pact needed to keep U.S. troops in the war-torn Asian country beyond this year and secure billions of dollars in pledged aid funds. Both Abdullah and Ghani vowed to sign the agreement, calling it crucial for Afghanistan’s stability.
Abdullah, 53, is half Pashtun and half Tajik. As foreign minister under Karzai, he was a close aide to Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masood, a Tajik seen by many Afghans as a national hero. They fought together against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. Suicide bombers killed Masood two days before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 that led to the U.S. invasion.
Pashtuns account for 42 percent of Afghanistan’s 32 million people, while Tajiks make up 27 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. Uzbeks and Hazaras each account for 9 percent, and other groups comprise the rest, it says.
Preliminary results of the poll are to be announced on April 24, with the winner declared after final results are made public on May 14, according to the election commission. More than seven million Afghans voted on April 5, double the turnout of the previous election in 2009.
Initial partial results of the vote, based on a ballot count of 10 percent, showed Abdullah leading at 42 percent and Ghani with 38 percent, the commission said on April 13.