Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah is leading his closest rival Ashraf Ghani in early results from the Afghan presidential election.
However, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) says figures indicate a likely run-off vote.
The eventual winner of Sunday’s poll will have to lead the fight against a resurgent Taliban as US-led combat troops prepare to leave at year-end, and strengthen an economy reliant on declining aid money.
“Today we announce the partial results of 26 provinces with 10 per cent of votes counted, these include (provinces) in the north, south, east, west and Kabul,” said Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the IEC chief.
“With 500,000 votes from 26 provinces Dr Abdullah is leading with 41.9 per cent; Dr Ashraf Ghani has 37.6 per cent and is in second; and Zalmai Rassoul has 9.8 per cent in third position.”
Nuristani stressed the figure was only partial and could change drastically in coming days, when more partial results would be announced.
A run-off election between the two leading candidates will be triggered if no single candidate gains more than 50 per cent of the vote when the final results are announced in late May.
But Nuristani cautioned against reading too much into the early results.
“These results are changeable … today one candidate might be leading but when we announce more results another candidate might be leading,” he said.
Of the eight provinces for which results have not been announced, two are in the north (Badakhshan and Baghlan) and two in the east (Nuristan and Paktika). The others are Daykundi in the centre, southern Ghazni and Wardak and the western province of Ghor.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan welcomed the announcement as a “first snapshot that will regularly be updated by the IEC”.
“I urge presidential candidates and their supporters to display patience while vote tallying is completed,” said Jan Kubis, UN Special Representative to Afghanistan, in a statement.
Abdullah, who was born to an ethnic Pashtun father and a Tajik mother, is more associated with the northern Tajiks.
More than seven million people defied bad weather and Taliban threats of violence to vote in the April 5 first round of the election, earning praise from world leaders.
Ahead of the vote there were fears a repeat of the massive fraud which blighted Karzai’s re-election in 2009 would undermine the winner’s legitimacy at a testing time for the war-torn country.
But the Election Complaints Commission announced on Sunday there had been “less fraud” in the current poll.
“We have received 1892 complaints with evidence, (including) 1382 through phone,” said spokesman Nader Mohseni, adding that 870 of the complaints fell into the most serious category.
“We will review all the complaints. Based on the reviews and numbers provided by the observers there has been less fraud in this election compared to the previous one,” he said.
Ghani’s camp was set to hold a press conference later on Sunday to discuss the partial results.
Abdullah, an ophthalmologist by training, came second in the 2009 election to current President Hamid Karzai, in a vote internationally denounced as fraudulent.