Afghan election heads to runoff with Abdullah in lead

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has the lead in the preliminary results, but does not have an absolute majority.

Full preliminary results released Saturday 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 percent of the vote, putting him ahead of ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who came in second with 31.5 percent, 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 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban's hard-line Islamic regime.

The winner will oversee a tumultuous period as the U.S. 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 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. He said the election commission was also examining ballots 444 polling stations — potentially representing more than 200,000 votes — because of fraud concerns.

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