Vote counting nearly complete in Afghanistan

? Powerful warlords, a former Taliban commander and women’s activists were among the front-runners as vote counting drew to a close Tuesday in the first Afghan parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.

Preliminary results will be announced starting today or Thursday and in phases, in the event of unrest, officials said. Losing candidates are expected to bombard election authorities with complaints and accusations of cheating. Final certified results are due Oct. 22.

Suspected Taliban insurgents who failed to stop 6.8 million Afghans from voting Sept. 18 resumed attacks this week. A bomb at an Afghan-Pakistan border crossing Tuesday killed three and wounded 20 others.

The election for new national and provincial assemblies is the latest step in Afghanistan’s transition to democracy after two decades of war and the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in a U.S.-led war in late 2001.

The election Web site, which charts progress in the count, shows that in most provinces, the top-ranking candidates for the 249 Wolesi Jirga, or National Assembly, are warlords or leaders of mujahedeen factions, many of them active in the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and the ruinous 1992-96 civil war that followed.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a former guerrilla leader and arch conservative suspected of having had links with al-Qaida is set to win a seat in Kabul.

Hazrat Ali, a former provincial police chief accused of ties to illegal armed groups is leading in eastern Nangahar province. He and his militia were used by U.S. forces to hunt Taliban and al-Qaida.

But there are also plenty of new faces. Among the expected winners is 27-year-old Malalai Joya33, a women’s rights worker, who rose to prominence for daring to denounce powerful warlords at a post-Taliban constitutional convention two years ago.

Women candidates are reserved a quarter of all seats.

Three former Taliban government ministers – including the minister of vice and virtue who imposed harsh Islamic restrictions on women during its rule – appear to have failed resoundingly at the ballot box, so far winning only a few hundred votes each.