Reuters International

Officials from the election commission count votes a day after the local election of municipalities and villages representatives in Kathmandu, Nepal May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Counting of votes in Nepal's first local elections in two decades began on Monday but officials said it could take several days for all the results to be known.

Officials said 73 percent of nearly five million voters cast their ballots on Sunday in the first round of the elections, a major step in the young republic's difficult transition to democracy more than a decade after the end of its civil war.

The government hopes that the polls, staggered over two phases, will lead to a general election later in the year.

“The first phase of local elections was historic because it took place after many years. Voters also participated with enthusiasm,” Govinda Acharya, an aide to Prime Minister Prachanda, said.

Nepal’s democratic journey took a hit in 2015 when some regional groups rejected a constitution approved by bigger political parties, saying it concentrated power among the hill elite that has long dominated politics.

Surya Prasad Sharma, an Election Commission spokesman, said counting for 214 local bodies out of 281 for which polls were held on Sunday had started.

Sharma said ballot boxes were being brought in by helicopter from remote polling centres.

“It could take 3-4 days for all results to be declared because of (lengthy) counting procedures,” he said.

Another nine million Nepalis are eligible to vote in the second phase of elections set for June 14 that includes the restive southern plains where Madhesi groups are demanding constitutional change to address their grievances.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Douglas Busvine)

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