- Abdullah Abdullah is in the lead with 82% of the vote counted, Afghan electoral body says
- Candidate Ashraf Ghani is in second place, and Zalmai Rasoul is in third
- Afghan electoral chief says full vote count will come Saturday, final results on May 14
- A runoff vote may be needed in the country's first democratic transfer of presidential power
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah is in the lead with four-fifths of the votes counted in Afghanistan's landmark presidential elections, the country's Independent Election Commission said Thursday.
About 7 million Afghans voted on April 5 to choose a successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai, in what will be the country's first democratic transfer of presidential power.
With 82.6% of the votes counted, Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has 43.8% of the vote, Independent Election Commission chief Mohammad Yousuf Nooristani said at a news conference Thursday.
Ashraf Ghani, with 32.9% of the vote, is in second place, he said, while Zalmai Rasoul is in third place with 11.1% of the vote.
All the votes should be counted by Saturday, when the initial results will be announced, Nooristani said. The final results will then be declared on May 14.
If no candidate has a majority, then a second round of voting will be held.
Nooristani was not yet able to say whether the election would go to a runoff vote or not.
Abdullah and Ghani were seen as the front-runners going into the April 5 ballot.
Abdullah, who is associated with the Tajik ethnic group, is partnered with Mohammad Mohaqeq, a leader of the Hazara ethnic group, and he also has a Pashtun on the ticket.
An eye doctor by training, Abdullah became Afghanistan's foreign minister under Karzai. He ran against him in 2009 but dropped out to protest what he saw as large-scale voter fraud. He is considered to be relatively liberal and has made at least one public statement in support of women's rights.
Ghani, who earned his doctorate at Columbia University in the U.S., is from the Pashtun ethnic group. His running mate is Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leader of the Uzbek ethnic group.
Ghani was the country's finance minister under Karzai.
Security will be a key issue for whoever is elected president.
A series of deadly attacks marked the run-up to the vote, and Kabul was again rocked by violence Thursday when at least three American medical workers in the capital were shot by a policeman guarding a hospital.
NATO troops are scheduled to draw down from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Karzai, who is constitutionally required to step down, has refused to sign an agreement to keep international forces in Afghanistan, also known as the Status of Forces Agreement.
But the two leading presidential candidates have said they would sign it.