The meeting which Mr Zardari is going to have with Mian Nawaz Sharif in London is being held in his peculiar style: no preparation, no proper choice of teams, and no agenda. There is therefore little hope of the outcome being any different from meetings of the sort held earlier. The participants will exchange greetings, hug one another, have a sumptuous dinner and part without achieving any purpose. Worst still, the meeting might this time end up with a recognition that the departure of the PML-N from the federal cabinet being final, the vacancies thus created are to be filled up. At the end of the first hundred days of the ruling coalition one finds widespread despondency gripping majority of the population. Hopes that things will improve for the common man are gradually withering away. Cracks in the coalition are widening. First, the PPP and PML-N split over the question of the restoration of judiciary. PML-N leaders are now increasingly distancing themselves from the steps taken by the federal government blaming it for not taking the allies into confidence. Statements emanating from the ANP leaders indicate that unless the PPP leadership treats them with greater consideration, they too might decide to part company. A perception is fast being formed that Mr Zardari lacks the capacity to hold the allies together and that he is no more than a somewhat refined version of Ch Shujaat Hussain. Interestingly no meeting of the four coalition partners has been held during the last three months. To many it would be a misnomer to call the federal administration a coalition government. For all intents and purposes is a PPP administration. What is more, it is ineffective. Prime Minister Gilani not only lacks authority, and his orders have been flouted in the past for this very reason, but is blissfully ignorant of what is happening to the people. He thus makes preposterous claims like "the food crisis is over" which are belied by facts. Prices of flour continue to increase, as do those of most food items. Visit a Sunday Bazar and you meet hundreds of buyers with dismay writ large on their faces haggling with the vendors and cursing the government all the while. As one visits restaurants popular with the elite-and their numbers have surged over the last few years-one finds no scarcity of food which is freely wasted by the well-to-do consumers. Not far from these haunts of the rich, people stand in queues waiting for their turn to buy small amounts of wheat for daily or weekly consumption. Many return empty handed because of the scarcity. A few weeks back a man set himself on fire as the money he had in his purse could not buy the most essential food items for his family. While the poorer sections of society are the worst sufferers from the soaring petroleum prices, unending lines of cars driven bumper to bumper can be seen crawling over the Jinnah Bridge that connects Gulberg with Cavalry Ground and Defence at late hours. This creates the perception of two nations, one comprising 10 percent of the population, the other 90 percent. One had hoped the new government would at least enforce austerity measures beginning from the top to at least avoid rubbing salt to the wounds of the man in the street. Here again the directives of a powerless prime minister were flouted. Cabinet members wearing designer suits continue to travel in luxury cars worth crores of rupees. It would be unjust to blame the government for the bad economic situation which it has inherited. It would however have been easier for it to convince the common man of its sincerity to resolve the problems if the coalition had been kept intact. A formal break-up would turn dismay into total hopelessness. Hopes aroused by apologies to the people of Balochistan and the promise to hold an All Party Conference to undo the wrongs which continue to be committed in the province have turned to ashes. There is a perception that the PPP leadership alone is incapable of dealing with the powerful forces who stand in the way of the resolution of the issue. Despite assurances by Rehman Malik, terrorism has raised its ugly head again. The suicide bombing in Islamabad has been followed by Karachi terrorist attacks. The PPP cannot cope with this issue alone either. The president who had gone into hibernation is on the offensive again, accusing the government of the economic crisis, saying there was absence of political leadership in the country, advocating the used of force in Balochistan and castigating the media for lack of responsibility. He also claims the army is with him. Mr Zardari faces two option now. He has either to bring back the PML-N into the federal cabinet, for whatever it takes, or put increasing reliance on the establishment. The second option would be a mount to a kiss of death for the PPP and its government. E-mail: