Afghanistan's presidential election is set for a second-round vote, preliminary results showed today, as former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani both failed to secure a decisive victory.
The head-to-head election will choose a successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power.
Whoever wins will have to oversee the fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency as 51,000 US-led troops depart this year, as well as strengthen an economy that relies on declining aid money.
"Based on our results, it appears that the election goes to the second round," Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission, told a press conference in Kabul.
Abdullah secured 44.9% of the April 5 vote, with his main rival Ghani on 31.5%, according to the preliminary results.
The 2009 election, when Karzai retained power, was marred by fraud in a chaotic process that shook confidence in the multinational effort to develop the country and also marked a sharp decline in relations with the United States.
The final official result is set to be announced on May 14 after a period for adjudication of hundreds of complaints over alleged fraud.
As no candidate gained more than 50%, a run-off between the two leading names is required under the Afghan constitution.
Eight men ran in the 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.
"The election went pretty good, we are satisfied with it and I think we are prepared if it goes to the second round," Nuristani said.
Another expensive, and potentially violent, election could be avoided by negotiations between the candidates in the coming weeks, but Abdullah has dismissed talks of a possible power-sharing deal.
Ghani has also vowed to fight on in the run-off, which is tentatively scheduled for June 7.
Serious fraud allegations are being investigated and today's announcement is expected to be followed by fierce debate over disputed voting papers, ballot-box stuffing and other cheating allegations.