2. Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Popular cricket sports star-turned-politician, Imran Khan was an early favorite with the youth of Pakistan, and many urban educated, who saw him as a symbol for change. But analysts say his campaign has recently lost momentum.
Mr. Khan came into politics during the '90s but has not been able to make a significant mark in the political arena of Pakistan.
After winning the world cup for Pakistan in 1992, he quit his role in sports as the national cricket team captain and got into philanthropy, launching one of the largest charity-based cancer treatment hospitals in the country. He also established a modern university near him hometown, which was also well received.
In pursuit of a good governance agenda, Khan formed a centrist, nationalist political party called Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (which means the movement for justice) in 1996.
He has campaigned based on a promise to abolish corruption "in 90 days" and stop US drone strikes. His party, one of the only mainstream political parties in Pakistan that is not family-based, is popular with young people and urban Pakistanis, but has struggled to gain seats in Parliament.
Khan’s star power may have helped elect him to Parliament in 2002 under Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s regime. He claims to have been offered the prime minister position at that time, which he declined. He stayed mainly in the background until, late in 2011, when he surprised everyone by holding a major public gathering in which tens of thousands of people showed up to support him.
Observers say that gathering was a game changer for Khan, as he started to attract local and international attention. Many big stalwarts of traditional parties like Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the then-foreign minister of Pakistan, quit his party and the Parliament to join him.
Khan has been criticized as a Taliban sympathizer for his anti-war policies and call to have talks with the Taliban, and many think the Pakistani military may be behind his rise to prominence to create a third party in the race in a country where historically only two traditional parties have dominated the Parliament. He dismisses both as labels by the opposition.
His biggest hurdle to getting his party seats in the Parliament and then getting elected will be breaking the ruling elites’ hold in rural areas (that make up more than 70 percent of Pakistan) where he is not popular. Nevertheless, observers feel he may have a good chance at becoming a significant third force to watch.