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The support of other candidates, with whom Mr. Abdullah said he was already in contact “either directly or indirectly,” would raise his chances of unseating Mr. Karzai in a runoff.

The remaining top candidates - maverick member of parliament Ramazan Bashardost and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani - have given no word on whether they would endorse Mr. Abdullah.

Although Taliban vows to disrupt the vote resulted in significantly less participation than in the 2004 election, millions of voters showed up at the polls Thursday. In the south, where militants are the strongest, turnout was particularly low.

Sporadic attacks across the country on voting day left 26 Afghan civilians and militants dead.

Taliban militants, who had warned people against voting, cut off the ink-stained fingers of two voters in Kandahar province, said Nader Nadery, head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a monitoring group.

Among other irregularities, the group’s observers noted that election officials in several areas were coercing people to vote for certain candidates; underage voters were casting ballots; and some voters turned up at the polls with boxes of voting cards to vote multiple times.

The National Democratic Institute, a U.S.-based group promoting democracy, said the vote “involved serious flaws.” It further noted the absence of voter lists and a likely conflict of interest since the Independent Election Commission officials are appointed by Mr. Karzai.

Western officials had anticipated that elections would be far from perfect given the country’s insecurity, hoping instead for a process that was acceptable. In Washington, President Obama said the vote was a move in the right direction.

Gen. Philippe Morillon, chief observer of a European Union’s election mission, told Reuters news agency that the election had been “fair generally,” but “free was not the case in some parts of the country due to the terror.”

This article was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.