Afghan election set for run-off as majority missed

Voters will have to choose between former minister Abdullah and economist Ghani


Afghanistan’s presidential election is set to go to a second round between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani after no candidate won an absolute majority, preliminary results showed today.

Mr Abdullah finished top with 44.9 per cent, followed by Mr Ghani with 31.5 per cent, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said.

Zalmay Rassoul, also a former foreign minister, was a distant third with 11.5 per cent.

“This is a preliminary outcome and will now go to the Independent Election Complaints Commission and they will work on this. As soon as they share their findings with us we will also announce it,” IEC chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters.

The final result is due to be announced on May 14th.

In the meantime, authorities will investigate allegations of fraud involving up to half a million ballots. It is unlikely, however, that Mr Abdullah could be pushed to the 50 per cent-plus-one required for victory if the suspect votes are cleared and included in the count.

“We have a tentative schedule of June 7th to start the second round,” Mr Nuristani said.

The April 5th election was widely seen as a success. Some 7 million of an eligible 12 million voters braved the threat of Taliban attacks to cast ballots in what will be the first democratic transition of power in their country’s history.

President Hamid Karzai was constitutionally barred from standing for a third term. His successor will face a range of challenges, including leading the country to sovereignty after more than a decade of foreign military occupation that followed the US-led invasion to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban in 2001.

Foreign combat troops are set to withdraw on December 31st, leaving security to Afghanistan’s military and police, trained and funded by the country’s Western supporters though their readiness to stand alone has been questioned.

Amid concerns that voter turnout will not be as high in the run-off as it was on April 5th, both Mr Abdullah and Mr Ghani have dismissed suggestions that they strike a deal to avert a second round. They have said the democratic process should be completed, a sentiment echoed by the country’s Western allies.

The UN envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, applauded the election.

“The Afghan electoral institutions should be commended for their work to make the process more transparent than ever before,” he said in a statement.