Fears of massive violence appeared to keep turnout low as Pakistanis cast ballots in National Assembly elections Monday. No party was expected to win a majority, raising the prospect of a debilitating period of gridlock and political horse-trading.
Ballot counting began immediately after the polls closed at 5 p.m. (8 a.m. EST), but official results aren't expected for two days. The outcome could determine whether authoritarian President Pervez Musharraf remains in power or faces possible impeachment.
The United States also has a significant stake in the outcome; the election could determine whether Musharraf remains the "indispensable" ally against al Qaida that the Bush administration considers him to be.
Scattered election-related violence claimed at least nine lives, according to the government.
"It's a slow turnout," said Shaista Tariq, the chief official at a polling station opposite the park in the military headquarters city of Rawalpindi, where former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27. "Maybe people are afraid. Maybe people don't like any of the parties and don't trust them."
The turnout seemed especially low in violence-hit North West Frontier Province. The area borders the tribal region where an Islamic guerrilla war is intensifying and where Osama bin Laden is believed to have escaped after the 2001 U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan.