The reinstatement of formal democracy earlier this year and then in the wake of this by Musharraf's ouster created immense euphoria in the country which is dissipating rapidly since the election of the new president. There are signs that there might even be an oncoming descent into despondency. This is not only due to the murderous US actions on our western border and the huge mess left by Shaukat Aziz and Pervez Musharraf and their multi-ethnic political epigones. This despondency is in large measure due to the shape, the direction, the structure and process of democracy that is taking place in the country. The various ministers and their advisors appear to be out of their depth in their posts, and empty rhetoric has taken the place of meaningful action, whether in relation to the decline in the quality of life in Pakistan, the non-reinstatement of the judiciary or appropriate responses to US aggression. The familiar mealy-mouthed leaders of political factions and their platitudinous statements on issues of huge national importance have added to the surrealist dimension of Pakistani politics. There is a total lack of urgency and operational sense to deal with the matters at hand of which the two most important ones are infusing equality and egalitarianism into the social, economic, health and justice systems (surely these are some of the most important items of real democracy) in the country, and adopting a foreign policy worthy of a large Muslim country. Pakistani political class/factions could learn by copying both of these dispositions from countries like Iran, rather than behaving like scared rabbits in the face of US pressure, not to mention the need for them to refrain from copying the haute couture fashions of the west. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the sense of continuity of politics of the previous government, including the centralisation and concentration of power in the president. This is not just about the place and use of 58-2(b) or the 17th amendment in relation to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Of course it is imperative that these items be dealt with immediately. But no matter how sophisticated or complex a constitution is, if individuals wish to subvert it they can. Constitutional and legal discourse, like everyday public and private discourse can be interpreted in different, even contradictory ways. What is important is the way the essence of the meaning and intent of the constitution is internalised and adhered to by politicians and their legal advisors. Electoral politics are meaningless unless the right policies and appropriate political culture becomes part of democratic decision making. But no civilian-authoritarian ruler (dictator?) can sustain himself for long in power now. Because Pakistani politics now are not as they were before, and in spite of the centralisation and concentration of power in the president, a civilian-authoritarian government, even one legitimised by electoral success, is unlikely to last long if it does not represent and calibrate itself with the national mood in general and deal with specific issues in particular. One needs to be careful not to conflate the trappings of democracy with its substance; as if it is a game of musical chairs occupied by one leader and his faction, followed immediately by another. More nonsense and meaningless blather is talked in political discourse today about democracy, and specifically about the miraculous quality assigned to government elected by arithmetical majorities of voters choosing between rival parties, than almost about any other word or political concept. In recent times, especially during the agitation to rid Pakistan of Musharraf, the word has lost all contact with reality. One needs to dissect its meaning and substance in the context of the popularly elected civilian government - while remaining fully committed to government for the people - all the people - poor and rich, stupid and clever, informed and ignorant - and with their consultation and consent. Given the concentration of power and authority in the current political set-up in Pakistan the most important political actor is clearly the president. He is not only the head of state but also commander-in-chief of the armed forces and party chairman as well. Typically he can make most key decisions on his own in light of his version of the public interest. He does not have to seek advice, and takes good care to ensure that no one else within the system can accumulate sufficient power to challenge his authority. Further power comes from his ability to stand above the various institutions of state, and the various factions they contain, and to adjudicate between them. The president presides over a state apparatus that consists of its major component institutions: the military, the security forces, the bureaucracy and economic enterprises. Another source of power is the support of some outside major power or its embassy, which will direct large sums of money towards the government, in return for the latter's acquiescence, service and good behaviour in relation to the formers interests. Another source of power is the president's patronage of quite large networks of clients. As a rule these will simply consist of people who have attached themselves to the president for reasons of ambition or in order to use them to protect or extend some set of interests. But it may be that the network is also held together by some kind of a general or vague shared political or ideological position. Important patrons will try to ensure that their clients obtain high-level posts, perhaps as ministers or chairpersons of economic and other enterprises, in exchange for their cooperation in helping them with policies or schemes of their own. This is a reminder that in Pakistan (and elsewhere) patronage is a two-way process - patron and client both need each other - and that it is also something that has to be worked at, attended to, over time. This relationship is neither guaranteed nor permanent. Clients may be ditched, or the president may be deserted if interests are not, or are perceived as not, being served. Or they turn out to be contrary to what decency and national interests demand. By no means negligible as a source of power, authority and personal legitimacy for the president is the 'personality cult'. This may not be on the same level as the charisma or personality cults of first tier political greats such Imam Khomeini, Mao or Lenin, or even of second tier ones such as that of Nasser or Nkrumah. But in Pakistan the attempt to construct a personality cult or charisma of the president could be a derivative one from a third or 'minnows' tier charismatic leader or family member (does the toothy smile add to or subtracts from the charisma?) But no amount of manufactured charisma can be a substitute for good policies adopted democratically. The president cannot do exactly what he might want to, and his power and authority is subject to considerable constraints and contestation. This is not only because of the factors mentioned above, but also because of the raised political consciousness of the Pakistani people. They have been aided, abetted, galvanised and spearheaded by the media, civil society and the Lawyers Movement. These groups have taken the mealy-mouthed Pakistani political factions pronouncements about democracy, justice, human rights and national integrity seriously and will struggle to remind everyone of the commitments made to achieve these. The rise and influence of these institutions and movements suggests one need not wait for five years to the next election for assessing the government's performance. The government is under scrutiny and is being assessed continuously. If it deviates from its promises it does so at its own peril. Pakistan might still be on the long road towards a new political dawn but perhaps the old political culture that is still embedded in the present, may be moving towards its swan song. E-mail: