A street is festooned with posters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party, Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on February 4, 2024, ahead of national elections. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP) (Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images)
CNN reporter in Pakistan explains what's happening in the election
03:22 - Source: CNN
Islamabad, Pakistan CNN  — 

Pakistan is on edge as the South Asian nation heads to the polls Thursday for a widely anticipated general election in which its charismatic – and widely popular – former leader is barred from standing.

Imran Khan, 71, is a former international cricket star who rose to Pakistan’s highest political office before he was ousted from power in a storm of controversy. Now the former prime minister is imprisoned on multiple convictions and banned from contesting the vote against his rivals – scions of the country’s elite political dynasties.

The vote, delayed by a year, comes as nuclear-armed Pakistan faces mounting challenges – from economic uncertainty and frequent militant attacks to climate catastrophes that are putting millions at risk. That sets the stage for a difficult road to recovery for whoever wins in a nation where no democratically elected prime minister has ever completed a full term in office.

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan attends a lawyers' convention in Lahore on September 21, 2022.

Two blasts in separate locations in the southwestern province of Balochistan on Wednesday, a region plagued by decades of insurgency, killed at least 30 people and injured another 40, underscoring how political violence has spiked ahead of the vote.