ISLAMABAD— Fresh partial results from Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential election show former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has slightly increased his lead. Although the percentage of his nearest rival has dropped, election officials say it is too soon to determine whether the election will go to a run-off vote.
The chairman of the Independent Election Commission, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, told reporters in Kabul Sunday that his staff has counted about half of the estimated seven million ballots cast on the polling day.
He said of the eight presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote, followed by Ashraf Ghani with 33 percent. However, Nouristani refused to speculate on whether the two lead candidates are heading for a run-off.
“We will be able to let you know in a couple of days whether it is really going to second round or not and it is too early to tell,” he said.
A candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner in the first round.
The winner of the April 5 election will replace President Hamid Karzai who could not run again because of constitutional limits. Final results are due to be released on May 14.
Speaking to Afghan media after the latest vote tally was released, Abdullah sounded confident he will score a first-round victory but said he is ready for a runoff. He emphasized the need for a transparent and fair outcome of the election.
Abdullah was the runner-up in the 2009 election won by Mr. Karzai amid allegations of irregularities and ballot fraud.
However, independent Afghan election observers like Nadir Nadery say that this time, the voting process in most of the country was a lot more credible. “Of course, there are irregularities and shortcomings," he said.
"But when we looked and assessed these irregularities and shortcomings, in no way it undermines the credibility of this election," he added. "There is a process the election is not done by the day of voting itself. The process has institutions involved. Those institutions are now working hard to clean those fraudulent votes if they exist and to address some of the shortcomings. The outcome will be a legitimate one and credible one we are hopeful.”
The estimated 60 percent turnout of 12 million eligible voters despite Taliban threats and violence is being praised by Afghanistan’s international backers.
Analysts say a smooth transfer of political power - which would be the first in the history of the war-ravaged nation - will play a crucial role in efforts to stabilize the country after the bulk of international forces leave Afghanistan later this year.