Pakistanis are electing a new parliament and four provincial assemblies [Reuters]

Polling across Pakistan has ended in the election for a new national assembly and four provincial assemblies.

The voting was peaceful but election officials at a number of polling stations reckoned turnout was low because of the security scare following a wave of bombings.

"Polling has come to an end. It was orderly and peaceful in most parts," Kanwar Dilshad, an election commission official said.

Musharraf votes

Though Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president and former army chief, is not in the fray, the elections on Monday are crucial for him. The results likely to decide his political future.

The election commission said turnout was about 15 per cent three hours after polls opened.

In depth

In video US concern over vote

 

In pictures
Pakistanis head to the polls

 

Background
 Power and politics

Monday is a holiday with banks and schools closed.

Musharraf voted at a polling station set up in a school in the city of Rawalpindi.

"We must come out of this confrontationalist approach and get into a conciliatory mode. I myself will remain committed to a politics of reconciliation with everyone," he said.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder in Lahore said that while many people were staying away due to fears over security, especially in urban areas, there was relative calm in rural areas.

The elections have been marred by claims of fraud, with opposition parties accusing the government of Musharraf of "massive pre-poll rigging".

The vote was originally scheduled for January 8 but was postponed after Bhutto's murder in December.

Her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is expected to emerge as the largest party in the 342-seat National Assembly on the back of a large sympathy vote.

Coalition prospects

Results are expected to start emerging towards midnight and should begin to become clear late on Tuesday morning.

Pakistan vote: At a glance


- Pakistan has 81 million registered voters, out of a population of 160 million people.
 
- Voters will choose 272 members of the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, for a five-year term.

 

- Another 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities
    
- There are 106 parties, 15 of which were represented in last parliament.
 

- More than 500,000 military personnel and police will provide security for the elections, including 81,000 troops.
 
- More than 60,000 polling stations have been set up across the country.

 

- Early results are expected by Monday evening

 

- Key issues include restoration of full civilian government, reinstatement of sacked judges, rising militancy, economy and high unemployment.

Most analysts doubt the PPP can win a majority alone.

Who it chooses for coalition partners will be vital to Musharraf.

"We will try and take all friends and foes together," Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and co-chairman of the PPP, said in a speech on the eve of the vote.

An alliance between the PPP and the other main opposition party, led by Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister, would be the worst scenario for Musharraf.

Sharif is intent on removing Musharraf from power, perhaps through impeachment by parliament and made a victory sign as he cast his vote in Lahore.

Analysts say Musharraf is aiming for a coalition between the PPP and the party that backs him, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q).

Farahana Ali, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that a possible low turnout precipitated by security fears could favour Musharraf but that a grand coalition between the PPP and Sharif would be a disaster for the president.

"However, it is worth remembering that political opponents in Pakistan are opportunists and I still think it is too early too predict what Zardari will do should the PPP come out on top," she said.

The province of Punjab could be a key battleground in the election given that, with a population of 70 million, it represents a sizebale chunk of the legislature.

More than half a million security personnel were deployed at polling stations across the country on Monday.

On Saturday a deadly car bomb attack killed 46 people and left at least 100 injured at an election rally in the North West Frontier Province. Voting has been postponed in that area as a result.

Western allies, who want a stable Pakistan focused on fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are hoping that forces they consider "moderate" will prevail.

The PPP led by Zardari is expected to emerge as the single largest party [AFP]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies