Three weeks after Afghanistan’s presidential election, the tortuous counting process is over. And the voters appear all set to finish the job—by going back to the polls. As was widely expected, none of the eight candidates managed to secure more than 50% of the vote. A run-off election will be used to pick a winner. The top two place-getters will be returning to the colourful and vibrant hustings. Abdullah Abdullah, the polished, cravat-wearing former foreign minister (pictured to the right, with an ordinary necktie), who finished second in the deeply flawed presidential election of 2009, has emerged as the clear front-runner. He secured 44.9% of the vote when the Afghanistan’s election watchdog announced the full preliminary results on Saturday April 26th. His closest rival is Ashraf Ghani (pictured left), an urbane academic and former official with the World Bank, who won 31.5%. Zalmai Rassoul, who was regarded as being the preferred choice of outgoing president Hamid Karzai—who was himself forbidden from standing for a third, five-year term by the constitution—was the only other candidate to finish with a total in the double digits (11.5%).
Even these results are pending certification, which should follow a formal complaints process. Its managers will adjudicate on scores of allegations of fraud, ballot-stuffing and intimidation by campaign and election officials. Yet their investigations appear unlikely to undo the final result. The whole process is scheduled to be completed by May 14th.
In announcing the results, the election chief, Ahmad Yousef Nooristani, said some 6.9m Afghans cast a vote in the April 5th poll, which marks a steep increase from the 2009 poll. The Taliban had threatened to target voters with attacks during the polling; the millions who cast their ballots defied them. While the exact number of registered voters is unknown, it is estimated that the turnout was about 60%. Of these that voted, 36% were women.
Since the polls closed, and the chances of a run-off began to look very likely, candidates and their advisers have become engaged in furious rounds of backroom wheeling-and-dealing. Mr Abdullah’s strong first-round showing, with his significant lead on Mr Ghani, has made him the more appealing candidate for those looking for coattails on which to ride their way to a cabinet position in the next government.