Had its consequences for the people of Pakistan been not so excruciatingly adverse, one could have even laughed at the farce put up by the coterie of dangerous clowns in the so-called democratic corridors of power. Oblivious to his role as the President of the nation, Asif Zardari, goes around stoking divisions. The Prime Minister would like to assume the role of the Supreme Court and interpret the Constitution as it suits him. A thousand poor people living next to the new Senate Chairman's house are evicted from their homes for his security. Sectarian violence continues in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan as the representatives of the affected areas refuse to play their role in controlling it, relaxing in Islamabad while their constituencies burn in far-flung districts. The situation is getting from bad to worse each passing day and, within the framework of democracy as we have come to know it under Zardari's PPP, there is no hope that things would get any better. Can a democracy hurtling towards a dead-end be saved? More importantly, is it worth saving?

Complaining about the attacks on the present dispensation for its poor performance and its subversion of democratic principles, a senior friend remarked that we put up with military dictators for much longer but don't have that much patience with democratically-elected governments. He was irked by the fact that our military dictators ruled for an average of 10 years each, while the people are talking about bringing an end to the PPP government after only four years. Another friend, who was building the case for dislodging the government through a popular movement, asked the senior gentleman to see the dilemma through the eyes of those being crushed under the weight of our democracy without substance, rather than using arguments of those crushing them, the elected representatives who would latch on to any political philosophy to ensure that their party goes on. According to him, the present dispensation has pushed the people to the edge in just four years, something that military dictators could only manage over a complete decade.

The logical and democratic thing to do, according to the senior friend, was to wait for the next elections and let the people decide about the fate of the present government. Fair elections and a smooth transfer of power are the attributes that are supposed to make a democracy function better than dictatorships, and ideally speaking, the senior friend had a point there. But the other friend had serious reservations about this proposition, and they carried a lot of weight as well. He pointed out the partisan way in which the Election Commission of Pakistan has been working under the PPP-government and its refusal to update the electoral lists, purging them of the millions of bogus votes and adding new voters that have become eligible to vote since the lists were compiled some five years ago. He had a lengthy charge sheet against the Commission and said that he did not trust it to ensure free and fair elections.

Perhaps, this is the most disturbing aspect of our topsy-turvy democracy. The misgovernance and corruption, and the consequent misery visited upon the people, could have probably been tolerated by the people for another year. What is making many of them impatient and unwilling to pose their trust in the democracy as we've come to know it under Zardari's PPP, is the obvious manipulation of the electoral process by the incumbents. Given the ruling party's disregard of every democratic principle under the sun, and its use of every unscrupulous and devious trick to hold on to power, more and more people are beginning to see that the PPP would extensively abuse the power at its disposal to illegally influence the elections. Given the love for power, and a propensity to cross any and every line of democratic decency by Zardari's PPP, they see clearly the impossibility of a smooth transfer of power.

The present government has clearly lost the confidence of the people. So many cases of misgovernance and corruption have surfaced and been proven against it that any half-democratic government would have resigned and called for fresh elections a long time ago. The fact that Zardari's PPP has clung on to power shamelessly, and is recklessly attempting to destroy any institution that could check its rampant abuse, indicates how important it is for him and his party of serfs to cling to power, and to employ it in every possible way to perpetuate their criminal stint in office. The PPP wallah's conduct in office also shows that democratic ideals and principles figure nowhere in their politics and they use the jargon of democracy to buy legitimacy for their dark tyrannical anti-people regime. So are we doomed to suffer under the tyranny of PPP's democracy forever and ever just because it calls itself a democracy?

The problem with discussions on worst democracies vs. best dictatorships is that they tend to be very superficial. Surely, any regime in our country is a mix of both. Take our present dispensation, for instance. In name it is a democracy but in many ways it could easily qualify as a dictatorship, most glaringly in the way a parliamentary system is being controlled by one man sitting in the presidency. On the other hand, military dictators often have to create a democratic consensus within the top brass of their institutions. By assigning black-and-white labels to the governments formed as a result of either elections or military takeovers, we overlook the complexity of the way power is exercised by governments. This simplistic framework makes it impossible to work towards democratic governance, reducing the discourse on democracy to rhetorical arguments that seldom go beyond the form to talk about the content.

And this is what my other friend was trying to tell my senior friend. According to him, when governments don't represent the will of the people though they call themselves democratic, when they start trampling upon the poor to make their next illegal millions and billions, even if they were elected, the only democratic thing to do is for the people to assert their will through collective action and replace them through a popular movement. He feels that we will never be able to get rid of the charlatan clowns in charge of our destiny through an election held under them, and the only hope for democracy is to throw them out by a popular movement. I think he has a point there.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.

    Email: hazirjalees@hotmail.com