Leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election voiced concern yesterday that voting was tainted by fraud, a day after millions defied Taliban threats and turned out to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.
World leaders praised the courage of Afghan voters, who cast their ballots in force despite bad weather and the violent campaign of intimidation, and urged patience in the long vote count.
Ahead of the poll there were fears that a repeat of the massive fraud that blighted Karzai's re-election in 2009 would undermine the winner's legitimacy.
There were reports of polling stations in numerous parts of the country running out of voting papers, leaving some people unable to take part, as well as claims of ballot-stuffing.
But in a promising sign for the stability of the process, two of the front runners to succeed Karzai, who is stepping down after serving a maximum two terms, said they would abide by the decisions of the Election Complaints Commission (ECC).
Zalmai Rassoul, who was regarded before the vote as Karzai's preferred choice, said that he had made complaints to the ECC, but refused to give details.
He said he was confident the ECC would address the concerns properly but warned: "Any president elected with fraud will not be accepted by Afghanistan."
Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, who claimed to be in the lead in preliminary results, voiced similar views.
There were fears that a disputed result could spark bitterness and recrimination and put the new president in a weak position.
The third leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, runner-up in 2009's acrimonious poll, said his team had also filed complaints.
An estimated seven million people voted, according to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), more than 50 per cent of the electorate - a huge increase on 2009 when only about a third of those eligible cast ballots.
Preliminary results are due on April 24, and if no candidate secures more than half of the vote, a run-off is planned for late May.
US President Barack Obama congratulated Afghanistan on the largely peaceful ballot and said it was "critical" to securing continued international aid.