The number of those with a blind faith in our current democracy project is dwindling and you can see these die-hard champions struggling to keep a straight face as they try to defend the indefensible. Naturally, with Zardari and Altaf Hussain as the poster-boys of democracy these days, they have a tough job. Their sermons on civilian supremacy have stopped making sense for another reason. While they’d like to paint General Raheel as a villain for encroaching upon civilian turf, the public is hailing him as a hero for doing exactly that.

Democracy is a worthwhile ideal for societies to move towards. But what makes the present ‘democratic’ dispensation so sacred so as not to be questioned, even when it mocks every ideal in the democracy book? Why should an undisturbed unending continuation of the current democracy project be a self-evident article of faith? Wasn’t this project conceived in cold imperial capitals and finalized in deals behind closed doors between military generals and our so-called democratic leaders? Surely, to foster democratic governance in Pakistan, we’ll have to do better than that.

Any half-decent system of democracy should do better than elevating to the top post of the prime minister a man who would pocket a diamond necklace given in charity for flood victims and take it home. Not just any member of the parliament but the Prime Minister, mind you. The worth of Turkish First Lady’s necklace might be insignificant when compared to the mind-boggling sums being swindled by our political elite. Yet, its theft by the sitting Prime Minister has made it invaluable. A louder slap on the face of our holy-cow parliamentary democracy is hard to imagine.

There is a growing awareness that the corruption of our oh-so-democratic leaders is not something that happens on the side. It provides the basis for anti-people policies pursued by governments that call themselves democratic and directly eats into public welfare. It is one big spanner that doesn’t allow the system to work for the citizens. The story of the stolen necklace demonstrates the parasitic blood-sucking aspect of our elected representatives better than anything else. The necklace could have helped hundreds if not thousands of people uprooted by floods. It ended up in the jewelry collection of the Prime Minister’s wife instead.

For the blind-folded champions of democracy, those who argue for a continuation of the current project at every cost, corruption is not an issue. They shrug their shoulders and tell us it happens everywhere. They’d like to sell us a version of democracy that goes hand-in-hand with corruption.

According to them, the best we can hope from democracy is that while our representatives make stacks of hay for themselves while the sun of power shines on them, they’d also do some good things for the people. As pointed above, that’s not possible. It’s the hay that comes in the way.

Regardless of their serious anti-democratic and anti-people repercussions, they’d like to trivialize the never-ending sagas of corruption as acceptable side-effects of democracy. So what if the constitutional mechanisms for the accountability of those in power have been rendered ineffective and everyone is scratching everyone’s back to save it. We could always vote them out in the next elections. Since elections are advanced as a solution to everything wrong with our democracy, one would have expected them to be bothered, at least, by the tattered credibility of the electoral system and the Election Commissions, and what that means for the legitimacy of the political order. But they’d rather ignore basic principles of democracy so that the macabre show in its name could go on and on.

Repeated displays of a criminal lack of responsibility and integrity by legislators and ministers must all be taken in our stride, even if it translates into the death and misery of the very people they are supposed to serve. Just like countless violations of the constitution committed by them every day. The constitution is a book to be taken out from time to time to read out selective articles and remind us of the supremacy of the parliament. Everyone must go around the democracy bush even when the bush is visibly on fire, threatening to burn the whole house down.

It’s not that difficult to figure out that the problems with the current democracy project go beyond the quality of our elected leaders and the fairness of elections that make them in charge of our destiny. These problems won’t go away even if a better crop of leaders is brought forth through fair and free elections. Something more radical is needed to make the system responsive to public needs and representative of their aspirations. We need to restructure our federation and scrap the parliamentary system with a view to separate the executive from the legislature.

Nothing could save this rotten system. What with our political parties reduced to undemocratic personality cults sustained by patronage and privilege and the patently undemocratic winner-takes-all first-past-the-post electoral system. What with the role money plays in winning elections and the concentration of power in a few corrupt corridors. We need 30 or more federating units with powerful local governments and a directly elected President as head of government. Enough of this going round and round the democracy bush in circles. It’s not going to get us anywhere.

Am I inviting another martial law? Not really. If our political leaders believe in democracy and are really concerned about the welfare of people in whose name they rule the roost, they should be the first ones to initiate these much-needed changes. If they could strike secret deals with the military mediated by their imperial friends to start the current democracy project, they shouldn’t have any problem with accommodating the military’s views on the new democracy project. If they don’t move on this count, events are bound to overtake them. With an assortment of skeletons rattling in everyone’s cupboards, and no popular support, there’s not much they can do when the security establishment nudges them this way or that.