It has also been dubbed Pakistan's 'dirtiest election' due to widespread accusations of pre-poll rigging by the armed forces who are believed to favour Imran Khan.
State of unrest
A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people near a polling centre as Pakistanis voted on Wednesday in a knife-edge general election pitting cricket hero Imran Khan against the party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack in the western city of Quetta, where security sources said the bomber drove his motorcycle into a police vehicle.
Voting amid chaos
It was the second major attack by IS this month in Balochistan province after an earlier blast killed 153 people in Pakistan's deadliest ever suicide attack. Hashim Ghilza, a local administration official, said the bomber attempted to enter the polling station. "When police tried to stop him he blew himself up," he told AFP. The blast left a scene of chaos all too familiar to residents of Quetta.
About 371,000 soldiers have been stationed at polling stations across the country to prevent attacks, nearly five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.
Vote for a 'new Pakistan'
The vote is a rare democratic transition in the populous and poor nuclear-armed Muslim country, which has been ruled by the powerful military for roughly half its history.But it has also been dubbed Pakistan's "dirtiest election" due to widespread accusations of pre-poll rigging by the armed forces who are believed to favour Khan.
About 106 million people are registered in which more than nine million new female voters have registered for the vote in the deeply patriarchal country. Vote in polls will close at 6 pm (1300 GMT). Results will start trickling in within hours, and the likely winner should be known by around 2 am on Thursday.
Imran Khan: Pakistan's hope?
According to the latest opinion polls, neither Khan nor Sharif are likely to win a clear majority in the election.Khan has emerged as a slight favourite in national opinion polls, but the divisive race is likely to come down to Punjab, the country's most populous province, where Sharif's party has clung to its lead in recent surveys.
The contest has largely become a two-way race between Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, whose brother Shahbaz is leading its campaign.Khan, 65, cast his vote in Bani Gala, a suburb of the capital Islamabad, telling the media it was "time to defeat parties which kept this country hostage for years". Shehbaz Sharif enters a polling station in the eastern city of Lahore and called on Pakistanis to "get out of their homes and ... change the fate of Pakistan" before casting his own vote and flashing a victory sign.