Despite calls by the US for the leading candidates in Afghanistan's election not to claim victory, both Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah said they won yesterday's vote.
Although the first early official results are not expected until Saturday or even Sunday, both campaign teams claimed they were ahead, with President Karzai's staff saying he had taken a majority of votes, making a second round run-off unnecessary.
Abdullah's spokesman, Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki, said the former foreign minister was ahead with 62% of the vote.
Pajwok, an Afghan news agency that began last night to collate unofficial results published by individual polling centres, said the two candidates were “virtually in a dead heat”, with Abdullah doing best in the provinces immediately north of Kabul and Karzai grabbing votes in the south and east.
The US had hoped to avoid such speculation and the secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, announced three days before the poll that she expected people to "refrain from speculation until results are announced". Fearing that disputes between candidates could turn ugly, she called on "candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly". The country's deputy chief electoral officer, Zekria Barakzai, called on candidates to await the official results.
He said turnout was between 40% and 50%, far lower than the 70% of voters who took part in Afghanistan's first presidential election in 2004. Figures on regional turnouts will be eagerly awaited as expected low turnout in the south could eat into Karzai's support.
According to the official timetable of events, preliminary results are not due until 3 September, with the final certified results coming in two weeks later.
Officials say turnout was between 40% and 50%, lower than the 70% of voters who took part in first election in 2004.