Nepal's Maoists have maintained a stunning early lead in vote counting from historic elections on the country's political future, election officials told AFP Sunday.
Of the 601 seats up for grabs in a new constitutional assembly, nearly 25 per cent have been counted or were close to being allocated -- with the former rebels so far poised to win the lion's share.
Election officials said the Maoists had already won 37 seats and were ahead in 51 others, far outstripping their nearest rivals.
"The Maoists have won in at least 37 constituencies, leaving their nearest competitors far behind," Nepal's Election Commission spokesman Laxman Bhattarai said.
The Nepali Congress, the country's largest party, and the centre-left Communist Party of Nepal have each won only 11 seats so far.
If the trend continues, the Maoists would become the single biggest bloc in a body that will rewrite the impoverished country's constitution.
Such a victory would also cap their campaign to boot out Nepal's unpopular King Gyanendra and abolish the 240-year-old monarchy.
Of the 601 seats, 240 are appointed using a first-past-the-post system, and it is those that are currently being tallied.
Another 335 assembly members will be elected by proportional representation -- a counting method the Maoists are also expected to do well in. The full results from these could take several weeks to emerge.
The final 26 seats will be appointed by the interim government, where the Maoists are also represented.
The Election Commission said the vote count was going well, despite some gloomy predictions ahead of the polls that the elections and count would quickly give way to angry disputes.
"We have no problems in the counting process. We are satisfied with how the election process is going," Bhattarai said.
The April 10 election was a central plank of a 2006 peace deal under which the Maoists agreed to end a decade-long civil war -- which left at least 13,000 people dead -- and enter mainstream politics. (AFP)
Maoists hold strong lead in Nepal vote