Full preliminary results released today in Afghanistan's presidential election show former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah won the most votes but not the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Abdullah garnered 44.9% of the vote, putting him ahead of ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who came in second with 31.5%, said 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 President Hamid Karzai, the only president Afghans have known since the 2001 US-led invasion to topple the Taliban's hard-line Islamic regime. The winner will oversee a tumultuous period as the US and NATO are expected to withdraw most of their troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. Karzai, whose relations with Washington have sharply deteriorated, was constitutionally barred from running for a third term. Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have promised a fresh start with the West and have vowed to move ahead a security pact with the US 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. (More Afghanistan stories.)