Pakistan's legendary cricketer has emerged as a rising political force, and the nation's sympathies may have been cemented by a tumble during his campaign.
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (MAY 7, 2013) (ORIGINALLY 4:3) (REUTERS) - When Imran Khan tumbled spectacularly off a mechanical lift at an election rally this week, a frenzy of media coverage erupted, the last thing Pakistan's mainstream parties needed as they fend off a spoiler threatening to up-end the political order.
Khan has predicted a "tsunami" of support for his party in Saturday's (May 11) general election as voters, particularly urban youth, turn against the traditional grandees of Pakistani politics after years of misrule and corruption.
It could end up holding the balance of power if there is no clear-cut winner among the two main parties, as seems likely.
Charismatic and - despite his 60 years - still athletic and craggily handsome, a jump in popularity has now brought Khan the political break he craved for so long.
"I have done whatever I could do for my country. I have not given favour to anyone. Allah has given me so much that it was my responsibility to do something for my nation. Now all I want is for all of us to try to do our best to change our lives," Khan said from his hospital bed as he recovered from injuries sustained during his tumble.
The PTI may also struggle to beat the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which presided for the past five years over a near-failed economy and was widely castigated for allowing the country's Taliban insurgency to spiral out of control.
However, the media's sympathetic coverage of Khan's election-rally accident - including a TV interview from his hospital bed that was set to stirring music - could sway voters seduced by the prospect of a third force in a political landscape so long dominated by the PML-N and PPP.
"In my entire life I have not seen a more honest, more principled, braver or more just person than Imran Khan, at least among the leaders of Pakistan," said cricket fan Abdul Jaleel, speaking outside the hospital where Khan was being treated.
"The sort of questions he asked us, the instructions he gave us, surprised all of us. Here we had come to ask about his health and he was giving us instructions about the campaign," said senior member of the PTI Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Khan cracked a rib in the accident and his doctor said he would not be out of hospital on time to vote on Saturday.
Pakistan's most famous cricketer and perhaps its best-known playboy, Oxfordgraduate Khan captained his country to its only cricket World Cup victory in 1992. As a philanthropist, he built a cancer hospital and aided victims of a flood disaster in 2010.