Thank God for the Supreme Court that saved the day with its positive intervention. It was a relief to see the PTI leadership back-off from its unwise call to lock down the capital and the ruling PML-N easing its dictatorial crack-down that almost brought the whole house down. Both have agreed to abide by what the judges decide. Let’s not be too optimistic though. The PPP was quick to question the mandate of the Supreme Court to sort out the mess around Panama Leaks.

Struggling to stay relevant, the PPP would like the matter to be brought back to the same parliament which has failed to find a way out of the government-opposition impasse on the issue for months. Apparently, it doesn’t suit its partisan interests to join the proceedings in the Supreme Court. So, will the Supreme Court be able to save our holier-than-thou democracy from itself? Even if the apex court rises to the occasion, will the leaders, champions and cheerleaders of our democracy let it?

Given the context of parliamentary democracy within which it operates, the Supreme Court has a tough job at its hand. It must rise above the partisan interests of various parliamentary players to meet the ends of justice. As it is, the present court is somewhat ambivalent about the legacy of the Movement for the Restoration of Judiciary and the judicial activism under former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that followed it. In any case, the champions of democracy are sure to raise the issue of parliamentary supremacy to scuttle the court’s efforts at bringing some order to a system gone berserk.

As it is, the malaise afflicting our democracy project goes much deeper than the patently undemocratic attitude of the PML-N government that prefers to behave like an oligarchic dictatorship. Being in the driving seat, it does set the tone for politics in the country, but it is not the only fly floating in the multi-party soup. Look closely at the numerous political parties playing the parliamentary game, and you’ll find partisan and elitist interests guiding their politics. That’s the name of the sordid game being played in the name of democracy.

The ruling party takes the cake though. The way the PML-N governments at the Centre and in Punjab blocked roads and highways leading up to Islamabad days before the PTI protest and their ham-handed crackdown on the party’s leaders and activists demonstrated Nawaz League’s disdain for the constitutional rights and well-being of citizens, even those who had nothing to do with the PTI lockdown threat. Rather than accommodating dissent, Nawaz Sharif and his coterie would rather crush it with brute force.

No room for the democratic virtues of engaging the opposition and reaching a negotiated compromise here. The parliamentary committee set up to develop consensus on the TORs for the commission to investigate Panama revelations, was made redundant by the frivolous behaviour of the government team. As a rule, the party has used committees and commissions to bury burning national issues rather than resolving them.

In the present instance, the government ensured that state institutions such as NAB, ECP, FBR and FIA that could investigate and act against the corruption exposed by Panama leaks, behaved like partisan maidens of the PML-N. Even the Supreme Court had gone to sleep after writing that famous letter to the prime minister. The government literally pushed the PTI to agitate the matter on the streets.

Interestingly, as the government arrested the PTI leaders and tear-gassed and lathi-charged its workers to stop them from assembling, it allowed thousands of zealots from a banned sectarian outfit to hold a jalsa in Islamabad. So, for our oh-so-democratic government, it’s okay to spread sectarian hatred but not okay to ask for the accountability of the prime minister. As the cherry on the top, even after the Supreme Court’s advice to cool it down, the PML-N government announced a pay-raise for the FC as a reward for taming unarmed protesters.

The PML-N is not the only political party pursuing narrow partisan interests in the garb of working for the welfare of Pakistanis. The pettiness of personality cults and power-coteries disguised as political parties, and their utter lack of vision, has increasingly alienated the public from the dark drama of democracy. It might provide television anchors and newspaper analysts a lot to scream and shout about but offers nothing to improve the lives and livelihoods of citizens.

As the politics of parties is reduced to pursuing the petty interests of those who lead them, democracy becomes a cynical tool in the hands of the privileged. This elitist pettiness has pushed democracy away from the citizens and into a self-serving bubble. It is reflected in the ineffective performance of the parliament and in the unbridled corruption and nepotism that infects various arms of our elected government, making those public arms incapable of doing anything useful for the public in whose name they exist.

This is how our money-driven parliamentary system is designed to work. The defects are built into the structure, and anyone wishing to compete in the so-called democratic system must rely on moneyed power-players entrenched in networks of privilege and patronage. The system is all about securing seats in elections. It allows political parties to function as undemocratic coteries of opportunistic power-players gathered around personality cults. It is geared to centralize power rather bringing it closer to the people. It is designed to perpetuate the status quo.

Let’s face it, to foster democratic governance we must build anew from a scratch. We must dare to see beyond ‘electoral democracy’ that seems to have captured everyone’s imagination as if it is the only form of democracy being practiced around the world. Even in the mother and father of democracy, the US and UK, people are talking about the failure of electoral democracy and opening up to the virtues of ‘participatory’ and ‘consultative’ democracy.

It doesn’t make sense to ignore the fraudulent foundations of our democracy project and worship it blindly just because it’s called our favourite name.