Afghanistan's election will go to a second run-off next month after neither of the two leading candidates managed to secure an absolute majority in their bid to replace President Karzai, who has led the country since the U.S. invasion.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah emerged on top with some 44.9% of the vote. Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank economist, attracted 31.5%. The third candidate, Zalmay Rassoul, received just 11.5%. For an absolute majority, 50% of the vote is required.

The results have been verified by the chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani. However, both Abdullah and Ghani have complained about the results. Allegations of fraud must be investigated so the final results won't be published until 14 May. Any run-off must then take place within 15 days. Before the election both men ruled out a power-sharing deal. Abdullah said:

"We have not talked or negotiated with anyone about forming a coalition government."

Whoever is eventually elected will face the daunting task of attempting to provide stability and growth following the final withdrawal of foreign troops before the end of the year – which can't come too soon for Western governments. Only today five British troops died when their helicopter crashed in the Kandahar region.