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Imran Khan is the sort of figure who rises to political power in movies, but not often in real life.

He was Pakistan’s most famous cricketer before his retirement. He was educated at Oxford and was friends with Princess Diana. His playboy reputation made him tabloid fodder in 1980s London. The election win of such an intriguing figure is bound to raise hopes of renewal at home and abroad.

His Pakistan Movement for Justice party came up slightly short of a majority but looks likely to form a governing coalition with smaller parties. Mr. Khan is already being widely treated as prime minister-in-waiting.

Can Pakistan’s presumptive new leader transform the country, as he has vowed to do, building an “Islamic welfare state,” rooting out corruption and forging peace with its many terrorist factions?

The mere fact of his election is a moderately hopeful sign. Mr. Khan is a departure from the procession of glowering generals and corrupt dynasts who usually lead Pakistan. If he assumes the premiership as expected, it will be just the second peaceful transfer of democratic power in Pakistan’s history.

But there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about Mr. Khan’s ability to cut through the morass of Pakistani politics.

Over the years, he has spoken in favour of misogynist tribal law. He also expresses guarded sympathy for the Taliban and supports Pakistan’s stringent anti-blasphemy laws. A bold modernizer, willing to take on the country’s religious establishment, he is not.

And though Mr. Khan is rarely accused of being corrupt, his recent triumph has been marred by accusations of vote-rigging and a belief that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment was behind his candidacy. It does not bode well for the integrity of the vote that Nawaz Sharif, the former PM and de facto leader of Mr. Khan’s rival party, was jailed on corruption charges shortly before the election.

Mr. Khan is an impressive figure, but Pakistan’s problems run deep. Leading its government will prove to be a sticky wicket, even for a legendary cricketer.

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