The merry-go-round of our make-believe democracy is coming to a grinding halt it seems, and you can’t really attribute this to the army chief’s recent statement about ending corruption at all levels. The elitist joyride is burdened by too many glaring sins for it to keep going round and round, crushing the lives and hopes of an entire nation like grass underneath. Besides, you can’t keep going counter-clockwise, against the mighty tide of time.

Other than the most diehard of democracy-lovers, who can deny that even the farcical façade of our civilian order is collapsing? That it has lost whatever little credibility it had in the eyes of citizens. It didn’t happen overnight, of course. It didn’t happen just because people found out about some off-shore accounts in Panama. It didn’t happen just because the government had to call in the army to restore its writ on a small island in the middle of a river.

Outside the privileged houses of parliament and the conference halls of donor-driven civil society, the plush drawing rooms of politically correct metropolitan intelligentsia and the studios of mainstream media, the citizens of Pakistan who are patronizingly referred to as the masses are asking much harder questions. They are the ones who have been left completely out of the loop of our so-called democracy.

They are the ones being pushed closer to the edge, year after year.

Actually, for them, the dark clouds of disillusionment had been gradually gathering since the restoration in 2008 of what many believed would be a new chapter of democracy. But old habits die hard, I guess. Sometimes, as in the case of our entrenched political elite groomed in the image of imperial masters, they never do. To our so-called leaders, power is an instrument to rule and not serve people. They only serve their insatiable greed, and of course their imperial masters. The so-called masses can see this more clearly than us, we who are trained to think in politically correct ways.

Even we should have cracked this one much earlier. But so engrossed were we in saving our oh-so-fragile democracy, that any critical look at the system or those lording over it, was brushed aside as a conspiracy to derail the system. We kept going round the democracy bush, analysing election results and titillating audiences with clamorous debates on news channels. We were scandalised by political somersaults and angered by piecemeal stories about corruption. We never asked the hard questions.

Why, for instance, are the leading lights of our democracy so dismissive of things that really matter? Why do they make a noise about certain things when it suits their political ambition but forget about them the moment they have made their partisan points? Why is the issue of ‘new provinces’ turned into a raging controversy one day but is shelved without any resolution? What happened to electoral reforms?

Why did we forget to follow up on the news that we loved to break?

Even today, the debate about democracy refuses to evolve beyond the civil-military equation. We think that those we call the masses are impressed by our high democratic ideals and politically correct analyses, that we will save them from another martial law if we keep saving democracy in our crippled crooked ways. We only make ourselves irrelevant to the large majority of people who don’t carry such theoretical burdens and have more practical yardsticks to measure the performance of our institutions.

If we wish to be governed by a democratic dispensation, we must take a long hard look at this elitist system that lords over us in the garb of democracy. Just saving it from martial law is not worth it. By defining the crisis of our democracy within the framework of a civil-military binary, we will only go around in circles; oscillating between fighting for the restoration of democracy on the one hand and distributing sweets at the dismissal of our mock-democratic governments on the other.

Besides, the large majority of people have no grudge against the favourite punching-bag of democracy-lovers. They see the army filling the dangerous vacuums created by the inefficiency of our government, performing a host of functions that the government is responsible for. They see this off-loading of responsibility on the army getting worse. For instance, the government says it cannot conduct the much-delayed national census with the support of 100,000 personnel that the army said it could make available for the purpose. The government says it can’t manage unless 300,000 personnel are made available.

Around the world, people are waking up to the limitations of democracy within a capitalist framework and how it is actually designed to function as an oligarchy. Questions are being raised about the role of money in winning elections, about structural defects in electoral schemes, and about the representativeness of those declared winners. And I’m not talking about developing democracies.

These debates are raging in countries that are showcased as models of democracy, including the United Kingdom with its patently undemocratic first-past-the-post parliamentary system and the United States with its bogus primaries and winner-takes-all electoral college for the President. It is not radical activists on the fringes who are raising such questions but mainstream serious contenders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn who are challenging the system from within.

In our case, any talk about revamping the political system is labeled as an invitation for a military intervention. In order to build a democratic order, we must get off the blindfolded bandwagon of saving our so-called democracy. We must see beyond the problematic parliamentary system and money-driven constituency politics. We must rationalize the federating units and build a structure from below.

We must re-imagine the foundations of the electoral system from a scratch.

This might not suit the entrenched political players who thrive upon the defects of the present system and are well-versed with every trick in the book to exploit it for their petty ambitions, but it will serve the interests of the people and empower them. After all, that is what democracy is all about.