Preliminary results show Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election will have to go to a second-round run-off vote between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani.
Afghan election officials said Saturday that neither of the top two candidates won a majority of the overall vote. The official count shows Abdullah won 44.9 percent of the vote and Ghani 31.5 percent.
According to Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission, election officials have counted nearly 7 million ballots.
Once fraud investigations are concluded and officials findings are shared with the commission, results will be finalized on May 14, Nouristani said, insisting that commissioners have enough time to cope with run-off polling logistics and security issues.
A run-off election, which is required to be held within 15 days of the final results, occur only if no candidate takes more than 50 percent of the initial ballots.
Abdullah finished second in Afghanistan's last presidential election, in 2009. President Hamid Karzai was declared the winner amid allegations of irregularities and ballot fraud.
Officials have been investigating complaints of possible fraud and other irregularities in the current election.
Relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama are strained over Karzai refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow a small force of American soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue training Afghan forces to fight the Taliban.
Both Abdullah and Ghani have promised a fresh start with the United States and vowed to conclude the security deal.
The ultimate winner will replace Karzai, who cannot run again because of constitutional limits. The next president will oversee a transition during which a majority of international troops will be withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has welcomed the preliminary election results, calling the process "more transparent than ever before.”
U.N. officials have urged the election commission and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission “to ensure that credible complaints are properly handled and that the integrity of the electoral process is safeguarded.”
Some information for this report comes from AP.