KABUL, Afghanistan — Early tallies released Sunday suggested that Afghanistan's presidential election will be a two-man race, with neither former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah nor former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai close to the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Abdullah held a slight edge, with 41.9 percent of the vote to Ghani's 37.6 percent. The partial results represented barely 7 percent of the estimated 7 million ballots cast, however, and international observers urged patience during lengthy vote counting.
The initial results were the first official figures released from the April 5 election, which would lead to the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Full preliminary results are expected to be announced in two weeks. If no one wins a majority, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters would be held in late May or June.
Running a distant third was longtime Karzai adviser Zalmai Rassoul, whom many had viewed as the incumbent's favored candidate. Rassoul, another former foreign minister, had 9.8 percent of the vote. Though that trend, if it holds up, would put him out of the race, in a close second-round contest his endorsement could prove important.
So could that of Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an Islamist former warlord best known for once having ties to Osama bin Laden. Sayyaf had 5.1 percent of the vote, according to the figures released by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission.
"Until the final results are announced by the IEC, stakeholders should be careful in drawing premature conclusions so as not to create inaccurate expectations," said Jan Kubis, the top United Nations official in Kabul. "I urge presidential candidates and their supporters to display patience while vote tallying is completed."
The results could be affected by fraud at the polls, officials say.