Former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani is in the lead to succeed Hamid Karzai as the country's next president, according to preliminary results Monday from the disputed vote.
The country's Independent Election Commission said Ghani had 56.44 percent of the vote. His main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, received 43.56 percent. The results were due last week but were delayed amid Abdullah's allegations of widespread fraud.
Abdullah, the former foreign minister, easily won the first round of voting on April 5 with 45 percent of the ballots, but he fell short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory. In that vote, Abdullah held a 14 percentage-point lead over Ghani. As NPR's Sean Carberry reported last week: "Many thought Abdullah was on target to be the next president."
But as unofficial results began to trickle in, it became clear that Ghani, a former World Bank official, was winning comfortably. Abdullah alleged massive fraud, and refused to accept the results.
According to Monday's results, Ghani had 4,485,888 votes to Abdullah's 3,461,639 votes — a difference of a little more than 1 million votes.
The election commission acknowledged that there had been some fraud, and promised a full investigation before final results are released.
"We cannot ignore that there were technical problems and fraud that took place during the election process," the commission's chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said. "We are not denying fraud in the election; some governors and Afghan government officials were involved in fraud."
His comments were reported by The Associated Press.
Indeed as Sean told Morning Edition today, the European Union says at least a quarter of the ballot boxes must be audited for this election to be certified as legitimate.
The election is seen as crucial and will pave the way for Afghanistan's first democratic transition of power. Karzai has served two consecutive terms, and is stepping down per the country's Constitution. Western troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, and the eventual winner of the election is expected to sign a security pact with the U.S., which would leave some 10,000 troops in the country for training and counterterrorism purposes.
But the impasse over the election results is renewing fears of a descent into chaos. Here's more from Sean's story:
"The international community is working aggressively behind the scenes to pressure the candidates and Afghanistan's electoral commissions to work transparently and quickly, and to find a way to address Abdullah's concerns.
"But there's a growing fear that one side or the other will end up believing the election was stolen — either on election day or during the counting and fraud adjudication process.
"The best-case scenario is a new president takes office lacking a mandate and with roughly half the country against him. In the worst case, the losing side decides to contest the decision — not with lawyers, but with warlords."
Final results are due July 22.