Updated: 04/24/2014 23:02 | By Agence France-Presse

Abdullah in lead as Afghan election set for run-off

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah retained a clear lead in the latest Afghan presidential election results released Thursday, but he remained below the threshold needed for a decisive first-round victory.

Abdullah in lead as Afghan election set for run-off

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah talks with reporters at his residence in Kabul, on April 24, 2014 - by Shah Marai

Abdullah has secured 43.8 percent of the vote, with his main rival Ashraf Ghani on 32.9 percent, election officials said, after about 80 percent of ballots were counted.

If no candidate gains more than 50 percent, a second-round run-off between the two leading names is scheduled for May 28.

"With the percentage of votes (still to be counted), I suspect there will not be a winner in the first round, but I cannot say decisively," Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission, told reporters.

Both Abdullah and Ghani, a former World Bank economist, have vowed to fight on. But a run-off election could be avoided by negotiations between the candidates in the coming weeks.

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.

Full preliminary results are due on Saturday before the final official result is announced on May 14 after a period for adjudication of complaints.

Hundreds of serious fraud allegations are being investigated after the vote for a successor to 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 percent of the vote on Thursday's results.

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