By 2:20 am on Tuesday, out of 241 districts reporting, The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was shaping up as the biggest bloc in the federal parliament, with 80 seats (33% of those in districts reporting) so far. The PPP had been led by slain politician Benazir Bhutto, but did not benefit from a sympathy vote to the extent that some observers had expected.
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)--the PMLN--loyal to Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, had won 64 seats(26.5%).
The other branch of the Muslim League, named "Q," had to that point done very poorly, winning only 37 seats (15%). Q supported Pervez Musharraf, the general who made a 1999 coup and who recently became a civilian president under irregular circumstances.
The Pakistan People's Party is relatively secular and slightly left of center. The Muslim League-N is right of center but traditionalist rather than fundamentalist (i.e. it is not militant, does not have imposition of Islamic canon law as its primary goal, does not require women to veil, etc. It is just Muslim big landlords and middle classes of Punjab and reflects their conservatism and traditionalism. Think rural Mexican Catholicism).
There are 279 directly-elected seats in the Pakistani National Assembly (the lower house). Once you add in women and minorities, there are 342. But those extra seats not directly elected are filled proportionally from parties in accordance with their proportion of the elected seats. So you can tell who won and who is powerful by looking at the 279.
The Pakistan People's Party may end up the largest party, with a plurality, but may need a coalition partner to form a government. Despite the rivalry between PPP and PMLN, the two could challenge their common enemy, President Pervez Musharraf, by making common cause. If current trends continue, even those two will not have the seats to impeach Musharraf, a move that would also require a majority in the 100-seat appointed senate, where Musharraf retains many PMLQ seats.
The rest of the post further analyzes provincial level elections, and points out a collapse of fundamentalist parties. More good news.