KABUL - Leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election voiced concern Sunday 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 voters, who came out in force to cast their ballots despite bad weather and a violent campaign of intimidation, and urged patience during the long counting process.
Ahead of the poll there were fears that a repeat of the massive fraud which blighted Karzai's re-election in 2009 would undermine the winner's legitimacy at a testing time for the war-torn country.
There were reports of polling stations in numerous parts of the country running out of ballot papers, leaving some people unable to take part.
More than 1,200 complaints had been received by the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) by Sunday morning, spokesman Nadir Mohsini said, and the number was increasing.
"Complaints include late opening of polling centres, shortage of ballot papers, encouraging of voters to vote for certain candidates and mistreatment of some election officials," Mohsini said.
But in a promising sign for the stability of the process, two of the frontrunners to succeed Karzai, who is stepping down after serving a maximum two terms, said they would abide by the ECC's rulings.
Zalmai Rassoul, who was seen before the vote as Karzai's preferred choice, told a press conference on Sunday that he had made complaints to the ECC but refused to give details.
He said he was confident it would address the concerns properly but warned: "Any president elected with fraud will not be accepted by Afghanistan."
'Reports of serious fraud'
Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, who claimed to be in the lead in preliminary results, voiced similar views.
"There are reports of serious fraud in several locations but all is documented and will be passed on to ECC for investigation," he said on his official Twitter account.
Whoever emerges victorious from the lengthy vote-counting and appeals process faces the prospect of fighting the Taliban without the help of US-led combat troops.
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.