Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate. A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal. The Wall Street Journal tallied partial election results from visits to roughly 100 polling stations, out of more than 20,000 nationwide, in the capital Kabul and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Kandahar in the south, and Gardez and Jalalabad in the east. At nearly all these stations, Messrs. Ghani and Abdullah were the clear leaders, according to counts posted by local poll supervisors. Mr. Karzai’s former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, trailed far behind.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Ghani or Mr. Abdullah managed to garner the absolute majority needed to avoid a runoff between the top two finishers. Diplomats, campaign insiders and election observers predicted a runoff sometime in late May or early June.
Afghanistan’s Pajhwok news agency, which collated its information from Kabul and several other provinces, projected 42.1% for Mr. Ghani and 40.7% for Mr. Abdullah. Their sample was heavily weighted in Kabul. A separate tally compiled by Mr. Ghani’s observers and posted on his campaign website predicted 53% for him and 35% for Mr. Abdullah, based on 10% of results.
Official final results aren’t expected for weeks to allow time for fraud complaints to be resolved. While reports of ballot-stuffing came in from all over the country, the election appeared cleaner than the 2009 presidential election, when more than one million votes had to be disqualified, domestic and foreign observers said.