Having gone through an arduous and excruciating process of scrutiny, the political parties - minus PPP, ANP and MQM - have initiated their election campaigns throughout the country that is spearheaded by their top leadership.

However, in the absence of PPP and its coalition partners due to an open threat by the Taliban against their leaders, the electioneering seems to be a lacklustre affair.

The Taliban have not merely hurled threats, but have also attacked the ANP and MQM.

The ANP, in the wake of the killings of its candidates and workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, has scaled down its election campaign though its leadership has expressed the resolve not to be cowed down by the threats.

Altaf Hussain has ordered the closure of MQM’s election offices in Karachi after an attack on one of the offices that killed three and injured 18 people.

While the PPP has not held any public rally and it is just relying on advertisements and video-recorded messages from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, resulting in the speculations by some observers that the party has already conceded defeat.

If the Taliban had hurled threats and carried them out against all the political parties, according to their declared position on democracy being anti-Islam, it would have  made sense, but targeting only specific parties ostensibly with a view to keep them away from the elections or sabotage their election campaigns, smacks of a well orchestrated conspiracy against them.

Who besides the Taliban, are part of this conspiracy is not known yet, but there are strong indications of a cobweb of a sinister plot in this regard.

So the field is left open for PML-N and PTI, who according to some analysts, will be the major contesting political forces in the coming polls. They have already held big public rallies in Punjab and their leaders are likely to visit other provinces within a few days.

A closer look at the manifestoes of the political parties, particularly PML-N and PTI, reveals that they are over-ambitious and divorced from ground realities.

For instance, while they claim to bring structural changes in the economy, they fail to mention about the strategies they would adopt. The biggest missing link is the cost of those measures and the generation of resources to implement them.

Besides this, they talk about bringing political reforms without spelling out the contours of the contemplated changes.

Another factor of the PML-N and PTI election campaigns is their focus on personal attacks, rather than the challenges facing the country. 

Under the prevailing situation, and the fact that the PPP, ANP and MQM do not have a level playing field available to them like the other political players, the idea of a debate floated by Imran Khan really makes sense.

Although he has demanded a debate between him and Nawaz Sharif, yet it would be a good idea to have a debate on national issues among all the leaders on the pattern of debate between the presidential candidates in USA. 

One of the major media outlets or a consortium can take the initiative to organise it, which may begin with a debate between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, followed by other combinations.

Finally all of them may be brought together to face questions from the audience and non-partisan experts from different fields of the national life.

This will put to test the abilities of the leaders to articulate and project their policies in proper perspectives, expose the lies being bandied around and also allow the masses to make informed decisions about them.

Democracy is the only course available to retrieve the country from the precipice. It is the recipe prescribed by its architect and our survival lies in going back to the drawing board and see our way through to real democracy.

The country needs systemic reforms, which is beyond the mandate of the caretaker government that is only charged with the responsibility to hold free, fair and impartial elections; the job that it is doing with dedication despite all the odds. 

As a final word, a multicultural country like Pakistan needs to switch over to the proportional representation system that will ensure the representation of even smaller and regional parties in the legislatures, making them truly representative bodies, besides it would help bid adieu to feudal politics.

These reforms are not possible now, but can be introduced through cooperative efforts of the parties that get the people’s mandate. Having accomplished the task, elections may be held under the reformed system.

The media and intelligentsia can play a vital role in creating awareness among the masses about the merits of the system and also building pressure on the political parties to take the initiative for the desired reforms.       

    The writer is a businessman and political analyst.