The build-up to Pakistan’s elections, which will be held May 11, has been clouded by a disturbing streak of violence. Suicide bombers, militants and gunmen have attacked rallies and assassinated candidates. Some of Pakistan’s leading secular political parties, including the incumbent ruling PPP, have even eschewed campaigning in public because of the alarming threat to their security.
The contest for governance, then, has become a battle between two more religiously-inclined heavyweights — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Of the duo, Khan’s story is far more interesting. Not long ago, he was known simply as a handsome star athlete with an alleged “playboy” lifestyle. But his subsequent entrance into Pakistani politics as a pious outsider keen to clean up the corrupt status quo galvanized much of the country’s youth and urban middle class.
He has been staging dozens of rallies across Pakistan — a series of which are documented here by Italian photographer Massimo Berruti. On May 7, at a rally in Lahore, Khan was being hoisted onto stage on a forklift when a press of bodies sent him sprawling fifteen feet head-first to the ground. His injuries include three fractured vertebrae, but he is expected to make a full recovery — and may well even go on to win an electoral outcome few thought possible only months ago.
Ishaan Tharoor is a staff writer at TIME and co-editor of TIME World.