Afghanistan’s presidential election is set to go to a second-round runoff between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai after none of the candidates won an absolute majority, preliminary results showed on Saturday.
The winner will oversee a tumultuous period, as the United States and NATO are expected to withdraw most of their troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. President Hamid Karzai, whose relations with Washington have sharply deteriorated, was constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in the last election, garnered 44.9 percent of the vote, putting him ahead of Ghani’s 31.5 percent, according to the chairman of the Independent Election Commission, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani.
The preliminary results are to be finalized on May 14 after investigations into fraud complaints. Electoral law requires a runoff between the top two candidates if no one candidate gets a majority. A runoff should be held within 15 days of final results.
The candidates are vying to replace Karzai, the only president Afghans have known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban's hard-line Islamic regime.
Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have promised a fresh start with the West and have vowed to move ahead on a security pact with the U.S. that Karzai has refused to sign. That pact would allow a small force of American soldiers to stay in the country to continue training Afghan army and police to fight the Taliban.
The preliminary results were from a total of 6,892,815 votes counted by the election commission, Nouristani said.