Pakistan votes after controversial, bitter campaign

Supporters listen to Khan's address. —AFP

Khan campaigned on populist promises to build a "New Pakistan" and vowed to eradicate corruption, clean up the environment and construct an "Islamic welfare" state.

Analysts said the vote was too close to call as polls closed at 6:00 pm (1300 GMT), despite widespread allegations of pre-poll meddling in favour of Khan, which saw the process dubbed Pakistan's "dirtiest election".

Former worldwide cricket star and socialite Imran Khan is confident that a victory in Pakistan's general elections on Wednesday will kick start a revolution for a country bedeviled by corruption and insecurity.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of former president Asif Ali Zardari was leading on 26 seats, possibly giving him a chance to play kingmaker in case of a hung parliament.

However, Sharif was disqualified as the Prime Minister and as a Member of the National Assembly in July previous year after the Panama Papers case decision.

"There was a deafening bang followed by thick cloud of smoke and dust and so much crying from the wounded people", he told The Associated Press.

The election comes as Pakistan's economy is in crisis, with the rupee's 20 percent decline spiking inflation and dwindling foreign currency reserves likely to force the second International Monetary Fund bailout since 2013.

The third major party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, also complained that its polling agents were asked to leave during the vote count in a number of voting centres.

Supporters of Pakistan Muslim League-N party wave party flags during an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on July 23.

"If there are certain polling stations where they have any complaints, we should be approached".

The leading contenders are former cricket star Imran Khan and his center-right Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party and Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who took control of the Pakistan Muslim League. That attack was also claimed by Islamic State militants.

People will be able to cast their votes until 6pm, as per the deadline announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The 85,307 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and will continue for 10 hours, an hour longer than in the 2013 polls.

It is reported one person was killed and three injured after supporters of the PTI and securalist Awami National Party (ANP) exchanged fire in Swabi, a city in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The US said it is "closely" monitoring the situation in Pakistan which goes to polls today, emphasising that it supports free, fair, transparent and accountable elections in the country.

In an effort to increase voter participation, the Election Commission has declared a public holiday on Wednesday.

Khan has emerged as a slight favorite 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.

Wednesday's attack comes as Pakistanis vote in general elections for 270 members of the law-making National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, and 577 seats in four provincial assemblies.

Almost 10.6 crore people are registered to vote for members of the lower house of parliament and four provincial assemblies. Final results are expected early Thursday. Some candidates won without a single woman marking a ballot.

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".

"We made history today", said Mohamad Ayaz Khan, a government administrator.

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