KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Election officials in Nepal on Friday began counting votes for national and provincial assemblies, the first time the Himalayan nation went to the polls to elect new federal units with the hope of bringing government closer to rural and remote areas.
An initial report from the Election Commission showed communist parties won two seats in the 165-member National Assembly and are leading in many more places.
Ballot boxes were still being transported from remote villages to district headquarters for counting.
In the capital, Kathmandu, officials tallied the votes inside City Hall that was guarded by armed soldiers while hundreds of supporters of candidates waited in the streets outside.
The mostly peaceful elections were held in two phases. The northern half of the country voted on Nov. 26 and the rest on Thursday.
It was the first election for seven provincial assemblies established under the constitution adopted in 2015. The assemblies will name the new provinces once they convene.
Election officials estimated turnout at 67 percent among the 15 million eligible voters.
Nepal's slow path to democracy began in 2006, when protesters forced the king to give up his rule. Two years later, Nepal officially abolished the centuries-old monarchy and decided that a federal system would best deliver services to all corners of the nation, which remains one of the poorest in the world.
But bickering among political parties delayed until 2015 the implementation of the new constitution, which declared Nepal a republic.
Protests by ethnic groups in southern Nepal who complained they did not get enough territory in the province assigned to them had turned violent and left some 50 people dead. Protesters had blocked the border with India for months, cutting off fuel and other supplies in Nepal.