|Pakistanis voted to elect a new national assembly and four provincial assemblies [AFP]|
Pakistani voters appear to have dealt the president, Pervez Musharraf, a severe blow in parliamentary elections.
In a major setback to the PML-Q, the ruling party that supports Musharraf, its leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain lost his parliamentary seat in Punjab in Monday's vote, early results indicate.
In the same province, another key Musharraf ally, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the railway minister, also lost.
Several other senior PML-Q members appeared headed for defeat, Pakistani television stations reported, as results began coming through for elections to a new national assembly and four provincial assemblies, marked by a low turnout and scattered violence.
As president, former army chief Musharraf did not contest Monday's parliamentary elections aimed at completing a transition to civilian rule, but the outcome could seal his fate.
A hostile parliament could try to remove Musharraf, who first took power as a general in a 1999 coup.
Opposition's 'big gain'
A spokesman for the PML-Q, which dominated the outgoing parliament, conceded that early results showed a "big gain" for the opposition.
Tariq Azeem said: "If the results are confirmed we will play the part of the opposition as effectively as we can.
"We congratulate Nawaz Sharif [the PML-N leader] for an excellent performance by his party and we also congratulate Asif Ali Zardari [the PPP leader]."
In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, a prominent conservative Muslim leader, was trailing far behind his rival from the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), with more than half the precincts in their district reporting.
Qazi Farooq, the chief election commissioner, said that two constituencies in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan were won by independents.
National turnout in the polls was estimated at 40 per cent of Pakistan's 81 million eligible voters, a senior electoral official said.
The final official count will be delivered by Wednesday.
Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder said from Lahore that while many people stayed away due to fears over security, especially in urban areas, there was relative calm in the countryside.
Nearly 80,000 troops backed up police across the country to provide protection against expected attacks by pro-Taliban fighters.
A bomb attack over the weekend in a town in NWFP killed 46 people, the latest in a series of deadly attacks against security personnel, politicians and civilians.
But no major attacks were reported on Monday, although there was scattered violence between rival political factions.
At least 12 people were killed and dozens wounded since Sunday night in Punjab, including a provincial assembly candidate from PML-N, officials said.
- Pakistan has 81 million registered voters, out of a population of 160 million people.
- Voters 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 60,000 polling stations were set up across the country.
- Key issues include restoration of full civilian government, reinstatement of sacked judges, rising militancy, economy and high unemployment.
Two people were killed and 10 injured in clashes between rival political groups in Sindh province, and another nine were hurt in Baluchistan province, officials said.
For his part, Musharraf promised to work with the new government regardless of who won the vote.
"I will say from my side, whichever political party will win, whoever will become prime minister and chief ministers, congratulations to them on my behalf. And I will give them full co-operation as president whatever is my role," he said.
After voting at a polling station in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Musharraf said: "We must come out of this confrontationalist approach and get into a conciliatory mode."
Ahmed Quraishi, a political analyst, said the vote did not reflect a referendum on Musharraf’s rule.
"President Musharraf is an elected president for the next five years and was elected through a constitutional process," he told Al Jazeera.
"It may have an effect on his future but he is the president for the next five years."
Two public opinion surveys by US groups had suggested that if the elections were fair, the PPP would finish first, followed by the PML-N.
PML-Q trailed in third place.
An alliance between the PPP and the PML-N would be the worst scenario for Musharraf.
Analysts say Musharraf is aiming for a coalition between the PPP and the PML-Q.
Earlier on Monday, Farahana Ali, a political analyst, said a low turnout precipitated by security fears could favour Musharraf but that a grand coalition between the PPP and Sharif would be a disaster for him.
"However, it is worth remembering that political opponents in Pakistan are opportunists," she said.
"I still think it is too early too predict what Zardari will do should the PPP come out on top."
|The election was marked by poor voter turnout [AFP]|
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies