Afghan preliminary election results due as run-off looms

KABUL (TIP): Afghanistan is set to announce preliminary presidential election results on Saturday, with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead in early counting but below the 50-per cent vote required to avoid a run-off.

Abdullah secured 43.8 per cent of the vote, with his main rival Ashraf Ghani on 32.9 per cent, after four-fifths of ballots were counted, according to partial results released on Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Independent Election Commission told AFP that a press conference would be held on Saturday to release the full preliminary results, but she said the time of the event had not yet been decided. The final official result is set to be announced on May 14 after a period for adjudication of complaints.

If no candidate gains more than 50 per cent, a secondround run-off between the two leading names is scheduled for May 28. Both Abdullah and Ghani, a former World Bank economist, have vowed to fight on if a run-off is required. A second-round vote could be avoided by negotiations between the candidates in the coming weeks, but Abdullah has dismissed talks of a possible power-sharing deal. “We have not talked or negotiated with anyone about forming of a coalition government,” he told reporters after Thursday’s batch of results.

Eight men ran in the April 5 election, with polling day hailed a success by Afghan officials and foreign allies as the Taliban failed to launch a major attack despite threats to disrupt the vote. Hundreds of serious fraud allegations are being investigated after the vote to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the Islamist Taliban regime was ousted in 2001. The 2009 election, when Karzai retained power, was marred by fraud in a chaotic process that shook confidence in the multinational effort to develop Afghanistan and also started a sharp decline in relations with the US.

Turnout from this month’s poll is set to be nearly seven million voters from an estimated electorate of 13.5 million — well above the 2009 figure. The eventual winner will have to oversee the fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency as 51,000 US-led combat troops leave Afghanistan this year. Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from serving a third term, pledged to stay neutral in the election. But he was widely thought to have backed former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, who took just 11 per cent of the vote on the partial count.

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