Pakistanis head to the polls despite interparty, militant violence

Representational Image

Representational Image

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed 149 people at an election rally in the town of Mastung, also in Baluchistan province.

Pakistan was locked in a close and tense election race on Wednesday, pitting cricket hero Imran Khan against the party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a process marred by a suicide bomb that killed 31 people near a polling station.

The fiercest part of the race is expected to be between the two right-wing parties - the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif, who is now in jail following a corruption verdict against him, and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by former cricket star Imran Khan.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of former president Asif Ali Zardari was leading in 32 seats, a sign indicating that he could play a "kingmaker" in case of a hung parliament, according to media reports.

In the past few days, the ECP has been regularly issuing notifications in public which aim at explaining them about the elections, political parties and candidates in the fray.

About 106 million people were registered to vote in polls which closed at 6 p.m (1300 GMT).

Parliament has a five-year term, and the majority party or a coalition chooses a prime minister.

Security officers gather at the site of a blast outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25, 2018.

In a separate incident, supporters of two rival parties exchanged fire outside a polling station in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swabi district, killing a worker of former cricketer Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and injuring two others, police said.

Pakistani Army soldiers sit guard as polling staff collect electoral material for general elections in Karachi.

The election day suicide bombing is just the latest in a string of deadly attacks.

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Khan has banked on gains in the PML-N stronghold of Punjab, Pakistan's most-populous province that has 141 elected seats, for his path to victory, successfully courting many so-called "electables" - entrenched local power brokers who often hold sway over about a quarter of Punjab's seats.

Seen as a combative and tenacious figure, Sharif claims he is being targeted by the military - with which he was once close. Since the general seats are 272, a political party needs 137 seats to reach a majority in the House and form the government in the country.

Results will start trickling in within hours, and the likely victor should be known by early Thursday.

"We made history today", said Khan.

Two new hard-right Islamist parties also may cut into the PML-N's conservative voter base.

At least 28 people have been killed after a blast in the Pakistani city of Quetta, as Pakistan goes to the polls.

The main problem for the ruling PML'N's campaign is that since the ousting of its leader Mr Sharif who was jailed over corruption allegations, his less charismatic brother has been running the party's campaign.

The army, considered the country's strongest institution, has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its almost 71-year history, and is widely believed to control foreign and defence policy.

Shahbaz Sharif casts his vote in Lahore.

"I am speaking for the millions of Pakistanis who are too afraid to confront religious bigotry", Nasir said.

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