By Mariam Chaudhry
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's citizens head to the polls on February 18 for parliamentary elections that may determine the future of President Pervez Musharraf and his allies.
Pakistan has a federal parliamentary system of government. The nation's parliament consists of the Upper House (Senate) and the Lower House (National Assembly) and the four provincial assemblies. Elections to the national and provincial assemblies take place every five years.
The National Assembly of Pakistan consists of 342 seats: 272 general seats, 60 reserved seats for the women and 10 seats for the non-Muslims.
General seats are filled by direct and free vote; the reserved seats are filled through a proportional representation system. Political parties are allotted reserved seats according to the number of general seats won by them in the elections.
Of a total of 272 general seats, Punjab has a share of 148 seats, Sindh has 61 seats, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has 35 seats, and Balochistan has 14 seats, with 12 seats going to the FATA and 2 to the federal capital.
Pakistan has held six general elections in the past 22 years in 1985, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997 and 2002.
The president of Pakistan, at his discretion, appoints a "Chief Election Commissioner" who heads the Election Commission (EC). The Election Commission is an independent and autonomous constitutional body responsible for conducting free, fair and transparent elections.
In 2008, 49 political parties applied for poll symbols with the EC. In comparison in 2002, 77 political parties took part in the election process.
The total number of voters listed on the electoral rolls for 2008 are approximately 81 million.
Registered voters in the province of Punjab number 44.9 million. Sindh has 19.5 million registered voters, NWFP has 11 million and Balochistan has slightly more than 4.3 million registered voters. E-mail to a friend
Source: Election Commission of Pakistan
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