updated 10/22/2013 10:36:04 AM ET 2013-10-22T14:36:04

KABUL (Reuters) - All the front runners in Afghanistan's presidential election next April will remain in the race, despite the disqualification of more than half the candidates by the electoral watchdog.

Whittling down the number of candidates to 10 from 27, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said those disqualified had either retained citizenship of another country or failed to provide evidence of enough support.

Most of Afghanistan's political elite have spent periods abroad, but anyone with dual-citizenship was barred.

"The disqualified candidates have 20 days to complain," IEC chief Yousuf Nuristani told a press conference.

Candidates had been required to collect 100,000 voter cards from at least 20 provinces to prove they had widespread support. This helped fuel a burgeoning trade in votes, with cards changing hands for about $5 each.

Despite the cull, all those considered to be front-runners made it to the next round, leaving the race wide open for various former warlords, businessmen and technocrats.

But President Hamid Karzai's brother Qayum lost a vice-presidential candidate on his ticket because he still had Canadian citizenship. Karzai himself cannot run again after serving two terms since coming to power in 2001.

Other front-runners include former Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul and West-leaning intellectual Ashraf Ghani.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan is hoping next year's vote will be credible enough to mark the country's first democratic transfer of power before it pulls most of its troops out by the end of 2014.

Western officials are however increasingly concerned about a repeat of the widescale fraud seen in 2009 because of deteriorating security and the flourishing trade in voter cards.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi, writing by Jessica Donati; editing by Barry Moody)

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