The political shenanigans in evidence since February 18 are like black comedy. With utter disregard for principles and propriety, prominent leaders are pursuing personal rather than a national agenda, oblivious to the pervasive public hate. Less than seven months after February 18 election that raised people's hopes for better times to come, the morale is down in the dumps. No meaningful movement on Ms Benazir Bhutto's assassination, civil war in the NWFP, rising prices, food inflation and scarcity hitting people, long hours of power outages, power riots, law and order a shambles, a state of mass anxiety in society have all but finished the political enthusiasm of people that seemed palpable in March. Inertia and disappointment are now the hallmark of public reaction to the forthcoming presidential election. It is in the middle of national hopelessness that Mr Asif Ali Zardari and his cronies will march towards the house on the hill in Islamabad. More and more people say that Pakistani politics is Machiavellian, a name considered synonymous with deviousness. Does Machiavelli deserve it? My answer is no. Niccolo Machiavelli, the son of a lawyer, was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. Educated in Latin and Italian classics he was elected by the Great Council as the Secretary to the second Chancery of the Republic of Florence in 1498. For fourteen years from then he distinguished himself as a diplomat and carried out several important foreign missions. He displayed a rare "keenness of observations and insight into the hidden thoughts of the men he was dealing with." Machiavelli was the author of several historical, political and literary works. In addition to being a diplomat he was a political philosopher, musician, poet and playwright. But he is best known for his treatises on realist political theory (The Prince) on the one hand and republicanism (Discourses on Livy) on the other. Machiavelli made a break from the idealist to the realist political theory in The Prince in which he went into the mechanics of seeking political power and retaining it, the Prince being the ruler. But Machiavelli always retained the larger end of the public good in view, the end justifying the means. His abiding passion was the unification of Italy and it is towards that end that he spelt out the skills of building a state in the Prince. Interests of state he considered to be above all individual virtues. Individual good, he taught, must give way to the general well being. Nowhere did the Italian philosopher diplomat suggest a personal agenda for the Prince to become wealthy through fair means or foul; no mention of kick backs, money laundering or other high level self-enrichment devices. Machiavelli was nowhere near the Pakistani Prince. But Machiavelli recorded his views on republicanism in his Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy that comprises the early history of Rome. They are lessons on "how a republic should be started and structured, including the concept of checks and balances, the strength of a tripartite structure and the superiority of a republic over a principality." Let me quote from The Discourses to conclude the argument: 1.    "In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check." Book I, Chapter II 2.    "Doubtless these means [of attaining power] are cruel and destructive of all civilised life, and neither Christian nor even human, and should be avoided by every one. In fact, the life of a private citizen would be preferable to that of a king at the expense of the ruin of so many human beings." Book I, Chapter XXVI 3.    "Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures...." Book I, Chapter XXXIV 4.    "...the governments of the people are better than those of princes." Book I, Chapter LVIII 5.    "...if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious." Book I, Chapter LVIII 6.    "For government consists mainly in so keeping your subjects that they shall be neither able nor disposed to injure you...." Book II, Chapter XXIII 7.    "...no prince is ever benefited by making himself hated." Book III, Chapter XIX 8.    "Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example." Book III, Chapter XXIX[8] It is not possible to give a complete picture of Machiavelli's philosophy in this limited space. But the above is an attempt to give a different dimension to his political profile than commonly known. He leaves no doubt about his democratic credentials, such as it could have been in the 15th or 16th century Italy. Our political actors of today do not deserve the respectability of being called Machiavellian; they are much lower. The writer is a former Inspector-general of police