July 23, 2014
Abdullah Abdullah leads Afghan election
Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah's lead in the Afghan presidential race has widened although half of the votes were yet to be counted.
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission said initial results based on almost 50 percent of the vote out of the total 34 provinces showed Abdullah in the lead with 44.4 percent, followed by ex-world bank official Ashraf Ghani with 33.2 percent of the votes it said were not fraudulent.
"The lead we were expecting, it didn't come as a surprise, but perhaps we were expecting a bigger lead," Abdullah told Reuters in an interview at his home in Kabul. "We are still hoping the elections will be completed in the first round."
To win, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of valid ballots. Failing that, the top two candidates go into a run-off. Final results are due on May 14, and a run-off, if needed, will take place in late May.
A run-off is seen as a risky proposition in Afghanistan, given security concerns, the prospect of a low turnout and the cost - the bill for the first round was put at more than $100 million.
But Abdullah dismissed the idea of deal-making to avoid another round of voting.
"The idea of coalition building in order to avoid a second round is not on the agenda, at least we are not intending to enter that track," he said. "The people of Afghanistan deserve to have a clear outcome."
He said he had spoken with Zalmay Rassoul, running in third place with nearly 11 percent of the vote, as the likelihood rises of them joining forces to defeat Ghani in a second round.
Hamid Karzai was constitutionally bound to step down as president after more than 12 years in power, at a time when Afghanistan readies to stand on its own feet as most Western troops prepare to leave the country by the end of the year.
Western powers are watching the process intently after a messy presidential election in 2009 resulted in allegations of mass fraud and ballot stuffing.
Foreign donors, who are hesitant about bankrolling the Afghan government after the bulk of NATO troops leaves, will also closely scrutinise the composition of the country's future government to decide if they can work with the new team.