Pakistan Muslim League

Election campaign posters are pictured along a busy road ahead of Pakistan's general election on April 15, 2013 (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

(FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan is preparing for its first constitutional democratic handover since partition as it heads to the parliamentary polls on May 11.

The campaign period has been marred by outbursts of violence, especially attacks by the attacks by the Taliban on candidates, rallies and offices of the country’s smaller, secular and liberal parties.

What’s at stake?

There are 342 seats available. Voters elect 272 members on a first-past-the-post basis. The 70 remaining (60 reserved for women and ten for non-Muslim minorities) are allocated to parties on the basis of their showing in the contests for the directly elected seats.

The outcome of this election may also determine which way the wind will blow for President Asif Ali Zardari when his five-year term ends in September. Zardari is widely considered an ineffectual president who has nevertheless proved oddly effective at clinging to power. And although he was forced to step down as co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, he is definitely considered to be its standard bearer.

Who are the runners and riders for the role of prime minister?

It really boils down to three key players.

The Favourite Nawaz Sharif, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, is a front runner.

Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif attends a meeting of traders during his election campaign in Islamabad on May 1, 2013 (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

(Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty)

A force in Pakistani politics for some time, he was ousted during his second stint as PM by former General Pervez Musharraf in a military coup in 1999. A victory in the forthcoming election would herald a third return to power. But is this a Shinzo Abe-style comeback – or more of a Silvio Berlusconi?

The Economist charts a favourable track record that may hint at the former:

“In Lahore alone, a bus system set up last year was opened in January; officials nearly eradicated dengue in 2012; and Mr Sharif built a motorway to Islamabad, the capital, in the 1990s. Such tangible schemes are popular.”