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Early Afghanistan election results show tight race

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan on Sunday released the first preliminary results in its presidential election, which showed a close race between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, with neither man close to an outright majority.

Abdullah had 41.9% of the vote, Ghani had 37.6% and Zalmai Rassoul, a longtime advisor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai, was a distant third with 9.8%.

The tally, based on 507,000 votes out of an estimated 7 million cast, matched preelection polls that suggested Abdullah and Ghani were the front-runners in the field of eight candidates. If no one wins a majority, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters is set for late May or June.

The announcement by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission represented the first official results to be released since the closely watched election took place April 5. The commission had originally said it would release partial results on Saturday but called off a scheduled news conference without any explanation.

Because of reported high turnout as well as the failure of Taliban insurgents to mount a large-scale attack that could have derailed the election, last Saturday’s voting was a milestone in Afghanistan, which has never had a peaceful democratic transfer of power in its history.

There were reports of scattered violence across the country, however, as well as of many eligible voters electing not to cast ballots because of Taliban threats.

The early results showed Abdullah, who has close ties to the anti-Soviet Northern Alliance factions that retain influence among Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, performed well in northern Afghanistan, as expected.

Ghani, who like Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, outpolled his rivals in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, which are dominated by Pashtuns.

The election commission did not release any results from the eastern province of Nangarhar, where officials did not open many polling stations because Afghan security forces could not protect them, or from Wardak, a restive province bordering Kabul, where many residents said they did not vote out of fear of Taliban reprisals.

Baktash is a Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Twitter: @SBengali

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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