Dr Kamal Monnoo It was supposed to be a wa tershed election, like those of 1971, that would set Pakistans course for a generation or more. Three years later, however, the convincing victory of the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) in 2008 looks like one more blip on a political TV screen permanently obscured with static. Given the closeness of contests in some of the recent by-elections in supposedly strong home constituencies of the mainstream parties, PML-N and PPP, the popularity graph of these parties, which only a year back looked so straight and clear seems to be getting fuzzier by the day and that too a lot quicker than one would have earlier anticipated. Regardless of the fact whether the Transparency Internationals disclosures and the ongoing opinion polls are accurate or not, one thing remains clear that in the short history of democracy in Pakistan we may be seeing the greatest political swing in a short span of less than three years where the pendulum is not merely swinging between the two main political parties, but away from both of them; courtesy bad governance exacerbated by non-democratic practices of bailing each other out in times of crisis at the expense of the public. Non-democratic, because for the ruling and opposition leadership to be in cahoots means overriding the defence mechanism provided by the shadow governments in a functional democracy. Even if some may argue that these by-elections (contested closely or otherwise) in the end elected the pre-favourites, the other day talking to one of the most respected politicians and chief strategist in his party conceded by referring to the changing public mindset as the, largest ideological shift in the shortest period of time in my lifetime. But is it? And if so, what happened in just about 30 months to produce this transformation? In fact, some of the social and demographic underpinnings of that imagined new era of the real democratic transition are still in place as in a time of economic crisis, people are looking even more to the government for help, a mindset that ought naturally to benefit democracies. Young voters - the fastest growing voting component of the electorate - have traditionally leaned towards the PPP and still do (Imran Khan factor not withstanding), not least because of its entrenched hostility towards anti-secular forces. Thus, new opportunity still exists for them amongst a constituency (age bracket 18 to 30) that is now being regarded as the largest among the voters and one that will be growing at the fastest pace in the decade to come. While one can argue that given the enormous multi-faceted challenges that Pakistan faces, any party would tend to face a decline in its popularity after a few years in office, but the real concern here and what makes it mandatory for them to succeed this time is that the test today is not for the success of any particular political party, but of the democratic system itself. It is of paramount importance that the present democratic dispensation uses this opportunity as a springboard for consolidating institutional framework and by establishing a lasting democracy that can deliver. Instead, what we see is that Mr Musharraf - that once lightening rod of national discontent - was soon forgotten from the scene, but ironically is being hailed now by some quarters. On the other hand, the confidence in democracy per se seems to be eroding due to the poor performance of the present government. The leadership continues to disappoint both on economic and social fronts. It has been unable to communicate properly with the hearts and minds of the people, too busy looking inwards, timid with its reforms and has lacked the vision to take any proactive steps for taking the country out of its present economic quagmire. Perhaps, the biggest reason for their declining esteem and the present volatility in the country is the economy. Travel anywhere in the country and you find anger, confusion and fear among people - a sense that Pakistan may have entered a period of long-term decline for which no political party has the answer. Pakistanis are impatient too. Not only do they want answers, but also they want to get these answers fast and visible. The poverty fatigue and financial frustrations are beginning to gnaw at the very seams of national unity and integration. Yes, the impatience may have been promoted by the imprudent economic policies followed by Mr Shaukat Aziz and his team. These policies resulted in an unequal distribution of wealth in the country, faulty prioritisation of economys sectors that adversely affected national manufacturing, in turn leading to unemployment and inflation. But the present lot has now had nearly three years to get the country out of this unenviable situation. Sadly, as a result of their poor governance what the people only see is anaemic growth, high unemployment and record deficits The declining graph of the main political parties, disenchantment with democracy in general and the growing discontentment amongst the provinces certainly indicates an economic decline. Whether this ensuing change and divide now take root, or is defanged before it is too late and converted into an alternative force, is the big question about how Pakistans future politics will unfold. The writer is an entrepreneur and an economic analyst. Email: kamalmannoo@hotmail.com.