Afghan women shop in Kabul Saturday. Women cast more than a third of the ballots — 36 percent — in Afghanistan's presidential election, officials said. The race will likely head to a runoff next month.
With 44.9 percent of the ballots in his favor, Afghanistan's former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah leads the candidates vying for the presidency, according to new preliminary results. He will likely face former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in a runoff, officials say. Ahmadzai captured 31.5 percent of the votes from the April 5 election.
The preliminary results were announced Saturday by the Independent Election Commission; the results will be made final in May, after an inquiry into fraud complaints is complete.
"The final result will not be known until May 14, as authorities investigate up to half a million votes suspected of being fraudulent. And even if they are counted, it is highly unlikely they would lift Abdullah over 50 percent."
The news agency quotes Independent Election Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, saying "I think we are prepared and if it goes to second round yes we think it is doable and we have a tentative schedule of June 7 to start the second round."
The third-place candidate, Zalmai Rassoul, had less than 12 percent of the votes in the preliminary tally.
Since the election, both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have sought to seize momentum from the results that could carry them into office as the successor of the outgoing President Hamid Karzai.
Officials also gave new detail to the demographic makeup of the Afghans who voted in the election. Of the nearly 6.9 million people voting, 64 percent were male and 36 percent female, Afghan news agency Khaama Press reports, citing Nouristani.
That result is "likely to be seen [as] an impressive sign of women's improving status in Afghanistan, a deeply conservative Muslim country," reports India's Live Mint business news site.