The former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, is leading his closest rival Ashraf Ghani in the Afghan presidential election, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said on Sunday, with the early results indicating a run-off vote is likely.

The eventual winner will have to lead the fight against a resurgent Taliban as U.S.-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 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.”

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 Mr. 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.

More than seven million people defied bad weather and Taliban threats of violence and went on to exercise their franchise in the first round of the election held on April 5, earning praise from world leaders. — AFP