KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front runner in Afghanistan's presidential election picked up a potentially powerful endorsement Sunday ahead of a second round of polling later this month.
Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who came out on top according to a preliminary tally in the first round of voting April 5, won the support of Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister.
Speaking together at a news conference, Rassoul said his decision to back Abdullah was based on "national unity, stability, peace and prosperity."
Rassoul came in third behind Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the first round. Final results of the first round are due to be announced Wednesday, with a second round face-off between Abdullah and Ahmadzai likely to take place two weeks after that.
Abdullah garnered 44.9 percent of the first-round vote, followed by Ahmadzai with 31.5 percent. Rassoul collected 11.5 percent.
The preliminary results were from about 6.6 million valid votes.
It is unclear whether Rassoul can deliver the votes of his supporters, who are largely Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group.
If voters follow previous patterns of choosing along ethnic lines, some believe much of the Pashtun vote will coalesce around the candidate who shares their ethnicity in a runoff — and many Pashtuns do not view Abdullah as one of their own, since he has an ethnic Tajik mother and Pashtun father.
Still, Abdullah — who was second place to Karzai in the 2009 election — clearly received some Pashtun support in the first round, and his experienced campaign may draw enough in a second round to put him over 50 percent.