Pakistan's Imran Khan vies for power as country heads to polls

Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf politcal party

Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf politcal party

Sharif's party tops another poll with 26 percent compared to 25 percent for Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

These elections are the second in Pakistan's history in which a government was able to complete its term to make way for another government after being ruled by military dictators for half of the 71 years of its existence since its founding in 1947.

Unofficial early results gave cricket star Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party a lead over the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is now headed by Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The election results may be on halt but preliminary numbers put PTI firmly in the lead, and most people have more or less called it: Imran Khan will be Pakistan's next Prime Minister.

"Imran Khan doesn't have many friends or allies; he's not someone who really knows how to work with people", said Mohammad Malick, a popular political talk show host, referring to Khan's famous stubbornness.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), 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. "We continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan today as they exercise their [right to] franchise", he said.

Terror group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Khan owes a lot of his popularity to the fact that he once captained Pakistan's cricket team, which won the World Cup in 1992.

When asked if the treatment of the party's polling agents and the election results backed up Nawaz's claims about army interference, his brother Shehbaz stopped short of blaming the military.

Since becoming a politician, Khan has steadily embraced a more radical religious line and is expected to reinforce that image once he takes over as prime minister.

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Clashes erupted between rival parties outside several polling stations, reports said.

Appearing at the Atlantic Council, a United States think-tank, Ikram ul Majeed Sehgal chairman of the Pathfinder Group said the Pakistani army always had a major say in elections.

Jeff M. Smith - from the Heritage Foundation - said it was important to acknowledge that a peaceful transition of power via a democratic election is still a rare commodity in Pakistan and thus would be a positive step forward.

In third place was the Pakistan People's Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 29, the son of two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.

The leaders of other political parties, the PPP, and the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement, also expressed concerns about irregularities during voting.

Recent nationwide polls indicate a tight race, with Khan's party ahead on 30 percent in one survey, compared to 27 percent for PML-N.

"We will not allow anyone to steal the mandate the nation has given to us", she told a news conference.

"Now the army, the intelligence agencies and the judiciary are taking sides", said PML-N voter Tariq Ateeq Sheikh, 50, a property dealer in Lahore's Walton neighbourhood. In Pakistan, a candidate can run for elections in multiple seats.

She was followed shortly after by Shahbaz Sharif, who 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.

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