Islamabad: With a general election due to be held on Wednesday, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is just a bat swing away from a victory he has pursued relentlessly since relinquishing a glamorous London lifestyle of celebrity and nightclubs more than 20 years ago.
“This is an opportunity to change Pakistan,” he tells an 8,000-strong crowd in the poor suburb of Shahdara, as moths collide with high-powered floodlights. “You will not have it again and again.”
Leading Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan has told the BBC his opponents in elections next week will “lose because of their track record” when in power.
“The status quo parties are suddenly saying the elections won’t be free and fair. The reason is all the opinion polls show the PTI is surging… so they’re already seeing the writing on the wall.”
Supporters of the PML-N party, in power for the past five years, and human rights groups allege the Pakistani military is “engineering” the result to ensure Mr Khan’s PTI party wins.
The elections are widely seen as a contest between the PTI, and the PML-N, dominated by the family of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr Khan told the BBC his party’s campaign was “a mission to see Pakistan rise again”.
The former cricketer has made fighting corruption his main policy issue. His rival, Mr Sharif, was sentenced to 10 years in jail by an anti-corruption court earlier this month, the culmination of an investigation Mr Khan pressed for.
However, some analysts say that the real reason for Mr Sharif’s conviction is that he clashed with the Pakistani army over foreign and security policies while in power.
Mr Sharif claims the military, which has directly controlled Pakistan for nearly half its existence, is now engaged in “pre-poll rigging” in order to prevent his party being re-elected.
A number of PML-N candidates have alleged they were told by the intelligence services to defect from the party, and journalists say they have been given instructions not to report stories sympathetic to Mr Sharif.