More than half of Egypt’s eligible voters cast their ballots in a referendum on a draft constitution that marks the first major step in the country’s military-backed transition to democracy, an official said on Thursday, citing initial results.

“Vote counting is under way. Results available so far point to a high turnout exceeding 55 per cent,” police spokesman General Abdel-Fatah Othman said.

“Voters who have approved the constitution may exceed 95 per cent of all those who cast their ballots,” he told the private broadcaster al-Hayat.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott of the vote, meaning approval of the constitution was widely expected, and attention focused on voter numbers.

The military-backed government says the referendum is aimed at restoring democracy after the army’s ouster of president Mohamed Morsy.

The new constitution, drafted by a mostly secular commission, is to replace the one adopted in 2012 under Mr. Morsy.

At least 95.8 per cent of the ballots cast in the southern city of Sohag were in favour of the charter, reported al-Hayat, quoting electoral officials.

In the coastal city of Suez, 98 per cent approved the draft, the broadcaster added.

Official results were not expected until Saturday. Some 53 million Egyptians were eligible to vote, according to official figures.

The two-day referendum came six months after Mr. Morsy was toppled by the military, a period which saw violence and protests in which hundreds were killed. Muslim Brotherhood has since been declared a terrorist organization by the government.

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