Kabul, Afghanistan • Two clear front-runners emerged in Afghanistan’s presidential election as partial results released Sunday showed a tight race that increasingly appears destined for a runoff vote.
Both candidates promise a fresh start with the West, vowing to sign a security pact with the United States, which has been rejected by President Hamid Karzai.
With 10 percent of the ballots counted, Abdullah Abdullah, who was Karzai’s main rival in his fraud-marred re-election in 2009, had 41.9 percent of the vote. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, followed with 37.6 percent. Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister considered as Karzai’s pick, was a distant third with 9.8 percent. Karzai himself was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Officials cautioned the vote count could change as full preliminary results won’t be due until April 24, but the early numbers suggest none of the eight candidates likely will get the outright majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Shortly after officials announced the results, Abdullah said he will seek a unity government if elected, but he only saw one role for Ghani.
"Dr. Ghani could serve as a loyal opposition. That’s also a service to the nation," Abdullah said in an interview at his home in Kabul.
Ghani, however, remained confident that he would be in first place at the final tally.
Final results are to be declared in mid-May once complaints of fraud are fully investigated.
The man who replaces Karzai, the only president Afghans have known since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, faces a huge task in fighting the insurgents and overseeing the withdrawal of the last foreign combat troops by the end of this year.
Both front-runners support women’s rights and differ largely on domestic issues such as relations with Pakistan and peace talks with the Taliban. They also have promised to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States that would allow thousands of foreign troops to remain in the country in a training and advisory role after 2014.
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