In the all-important province of Kabul, which has 33 seats in parliament, with 65 per cent of votes counted the Hazara warlord Mohammed Mohaqiq emerged as a clear front-runner, with the former Northern Alliance official Younis Qanooni close behind.
A rare bright spot was provided by Malalai Joya, a female candidate who made her name by denouncing the warlords, and won a seat on a big popular vote in one of the first provinces to declare. But her success was overshadowed by the candidate running fourth in Kabul and almost certain to claim a seat, the notorious warlord Abd al-Rab Al-Rasual Sayyaf, a former ally of Osama bin Laden and alleged war criminal.
Mr Sayyaf was running well even after ballots from his stronghold district of Paghman were excluded because of vote fraud that included widespread ballot-stuffing, according to election officials.
Mr Sayyaf was an associate of Bin Laden during the jihad against the Soviet occupation. In the years that followed, future al-Qa'ida members are believed to have trained at Mr Sayyaf's mujahedin camps.
Human Rights Watch has accused Mr Sayyaf of war crimes during the siege of Kabul, when his Ittihad-e Islami factions massacred Hazara civilians. He now looks set to occupy a prominent position in parliament.
The initial results that trickled through yesterday, almost three weeks after the election, are testament to the complicated task of retrieving ballot boxes from Afghanistan's remote mountain regions. Only the south-western provinces of Farah and Nimroz declared yesterday.
Ms Joya, who was elected from Farah, shot to prominence at the jirga to agree the new constitution two years ago, when she made an outspoken attack on the warlords and their continuing influence in Afghanistan. Although a quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for women, Ms Jalalai did not win her seat by virtue of the quota, but came second overall in the province, which elects five members to parliament.
Although candidates' party allegiances were not allowed on the ballot papers, an opposition alliance against President Hamid Karzai looked to be doing well as counting continued. Mr Qanooni, a Tajik who came second in last year's presidential elections, is the leader of a coalition of opposition parties and was already being spoken of as the leader of the opposition before the polls. Mr Mohaqiq is one of his allies. If their New Afghanistan coalition secures enough seats, they could pose a serious opposition to President Karzai in parliament.
Another apparent winner was Bashar Dost, who was third overall in Kabul province. Mr Dost, a former planning minister, campaigned on a platform of expelling the majority of Western NGOs from Afghanistan, claiming they were siphoning off funds intended to rebuild the country as profits. His strong showing is a signal that Afghans' goodwill towards foreign aid workers is waning as the reconstruction of the country stalls.
Among the major losers appeared to be former Taliban candidates. A handful of former Taliban, including the ex-foreign minister who warned the US about the 9/11 attacks, Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, stood as candidates, but most looked unlikely to win. Only Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi looked set to be elected in Zabol province.
The final results are expected on 22 October.