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Afghan Election Runoff Likely, Early Results Suggest

Ex-minister Abdullah Abdullah leads the presidential race, but with only half the votes counted, he does not look to have won outright.

KABUL - Afghanistan’s presidential elections look likely to go to a runoff between an ex-minister and World Bank executive after voting figures on Tuesday suggested no clear winner has emerged.

With 50 percent of votes counted so far it is still not clear who will succeed President Hamid Karzai.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah still leads with 44.4 percent of votes cast, followed by World Bank official and ex- finance minister Ashraf Ghani with 33.2 percent, while Karzai’s favored candidate, Zalmai Rasoul, trails behind with 10 percent, according to Afghanistan's Independent Elections Commission (IEC).

Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani are in first and second place respectively with 50% of the votes counted.Reuters, AP

Afghan law says candidates must secure more than 50 percent of the total vote in order to become president, pointing to a May 28 runoff between the two frontrunners, Abdullah and Ghani.

That would pose another massive security, logistical and financial challenge for authorities. The first round of voting on April 5 saw higher than expected turnout and relatively few incidents thanks to preparations thought to have cost approximately $100 million.

Both Abdullah and Ghani have said they are prepared for a runoff, but Karzai is working back channels to form a coalition government between the top contenders, a National Security Council official told NBC News.

Preliminary results from the April 5 round will be announced later this week, followed by a two-week verification period, before a formal announcement on May 7. That gives election officials time to investigate likely thousands of individual complaints of voting irregularities.

It is the third presidential election since U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001.