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by Staff Writers
Islamabad (AFP) May 12, 2013
Imran Khan, Pakistan's cricket hero, made an incredible breakthrough at the polls with his enormous popularity inspiring one of the highest voter turnouts in history.
Loved by millions across the cricket-obsessed nation for winning Pakistan its only World Cup in 1992, the 60-year-old has sporting prowess, rugged good looks and international celebrity in a country lacking glamour.
He may not have achieved his dream, in which a "tsunami" of support would win him the premiership, but his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) looks set to form a government in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He electrified the campaign, addressing enormous crowds and galvanising young voters and an urban middle class fed up with the same old politicians who have ruled for decades on the back of family wealth.
When he plunged off a lift cranking him up to the stage at a rally and fractured his spine in the final days of campaigning, his bedside television addresses were feted as some of the finest Pakistani political oratory in years.
To his detractors, he is a dangerous appeaser of the Taliban, a Muslim conservative weak on women's rights and a naive figure who doesn't understand that America's war against Islamic extremists is also Pakistan's war.
For a party only founded in 1996 and which only ever won one seat, in 2002, the election result is an incredible achievement that will test its governing ability on the frontline of Pakistan's war against the Taliban.
"God will not take me from this world until a new Pakistan is built," he told supporters by video-link from his hospital bed on the last day of campaigning.
Tugging at their heart strings, he spoke about his Muslim faith, the personal sacrifices he has made and his mantra for reform.
"God has given you this golden opportunity. Don't let it go. You should give change a chance," he said from the hospital he founded for the poor.
Khan's campaign slogan was Naya Pakistan -- New Pakistan.
The message was simple -- the parties that have governed for the past two decades have failed and it is time to try something else, time to pay tax, end corruption, fix the power crisis and stand up to America.
His vocal opposition to US drone strikes targeting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda also struck a chord with a deeply anti-American populace.
His face is plastered all over billboards, TV adverts and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party ran a strong Internet campaign with a stylish website, securing @ImranKhanPTI more than half a million followers on Twitter.
Born on November 25, 1952 in Lahore into a comfortable family with origins in the Pashtun northwest, Khan was educated at Aitchison College, the Eton of Pakistan, boarding school in England, and then Oxford University.
He became one of the world's greatest ever all-rounders -- a fearsome fast bowler and dangerous batsman -- whose finest hour came at the 1992 World Cup, where at the age of 39 he led an inexperienced team to the title.
Off the pitch, he had a string of socialite girlfriends and frequented exclusive nightclubs in London until he married Jemima Goldsmith, the daughter of the French-British tycoon James, in 1995.
She converted to Islam and the couple moved in with his family in Lahore.
They had two sons but divorced in 2004, allegedly over the difficulties Jemima faced in Pakistan, where she was hounded for her family's Jewish ancestry and his obsession with politics.
He is also feted for his philanthropy. He founded the best cancer hospital in the country, which provides free care to the poor, and set up a college that awards British university degrees in Mianwali, his family's home town.
His rival Nawaz Sharif cautioned Khan on the campaign trail that politics is more than a game. Khan will now be batting for his life, most likely in opposition at the national level but grappling with power in the northwest.
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
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