32 killed as Pakistan votes to elect new government

Pakistani election staff empty the ballot boxes to start counting following polls closed at a polling station for the parliamentary elections in Islamabad Pakistan

Imran Khan wants to create a 'New Pakistan,' many fear more of the same

Sharif's PML-N has been hoping its delivery of mega infrastructure projects, especially roads and power stations that helped hugely reduce electricity blackouts, would win over.

The exact time for announcement of the results is not yet known.

In the 2013 elections, the PML-N, led by former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, emerged as the largest party with 166 seats out of a total of 342 seats in the National Assembly.

According to the Election Commission, 3,459 candidates are contesting for 272 general seats of the National Assembly, while 8,396 candidates are running for 577 general seats of the four provincial assemblies - Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

About 106 million people are registered to vote in polls due to close at 6pm local time (10pm AEST). High time that all of you came out to vote for Pakistan's progress and prosperity.

About 371,000 soldiers have been stationed at polling stations across the country to prevent attacks, almost five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.

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More than 19 million new voters, including millions of women and youth, may prove decisive in the close race.

Hours after polling began for the general elections, an Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up outside a polling station in Bhosa Mandi area of Balochistan's provincial capital, Quetta, killing 31 people, including policemen.

Polling took place in the country's 85,307 polling stations, out of which 17,007 were declared as "highly sensitive".

Thirty-five people have been rushed to various hospitals. The PML-N has sought to turn the vote into a referendum on democracy, and has said it was campaigning to protect the "sanctity of the vote", a reference to a history of political interference by the military.

Pakistan's flamboyant cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was leading in 94 parliamentary seats, while its main rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was ahead on 53 seats in the initial round of counting on Wednesday in an election marred by a deadly suicide attack and allegations of manipulations by the powerful military. "That is why we think that the undecided voters may tilt the balance of the forthcoming election in Punjab and thereby determine the fate of the Federal Government", Gallup Pakistan said. The contest largely became a two-way race between Khan's PTI and the incumbent PML-N of ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, whose brother Shahbaz is leading its campaign.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) have all claimed that the votes cast at various polling stations were changed behind closed doors after their polling agents were thrown out without giving them form-45.

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In the northwestern town of Swabi one PTI worker was killed in an exchange of fire with a rival party, police said.

That attack was also claimed by Islamic State militants.

But the erstwhile playboy's campaign has been dogged by widespread accusations he is benefitting from the support of the country's powerful security establishment, with the media, activists and thinktanks decrying a "silent coup" by the generals.

The military - which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its history - has rejected the accusations, saying it has no "direct role" in the electoral process. He also the urged people of the country to fulfill their towards their nation and turn up in huge numbers on the election day.

Khan also raised eyebrows in recent weeks by increasingly catering to hardline religious groups, particularly over the inflammatory issue of blasphemy - sparking fears a win for PTI could embolden Islamist extremists.

Elsewhere, anger with the alleged conspiracy to unseat the PML-N was apparent among some voters. Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power previous year and jailed over a corruption conviction days before the vote, removing Khan's most risky rival.

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The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), with young scion Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at its helm, is also competing nationally, along with other parties.

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