As the last day of 2012, today has a bittersweet taste to it. Buckle up for a rollercoaster 2013. It’s gonna be one helluva ride.

So as Pakistan gallops into yet another election year, it does so with an old nagging question returning to haunt us. Some thought the question had died and gone to heaven (or hell). Apparently not.

Yet again we ask, “Does democracy rock? Or rot?

Who brought this question back? Perhaps the tens of thousands of people who gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan to hear Allama Tahirul Qadri read the riot act to parties in power. Perhaps the millions of people who have waited and waited for democracy to bring a qualitative change in their lives – and continue to wait. Perhaps the political parties who have indulged in every form of chicanery known to man and yet claim the mantle of saviours. And perhaps the motley crew of non-state actors who have openly or surreptitiously advocated for an end to the democratic ‘nonsense’.

As a result, the democracy question lingers in the mouth like a bad taste refusing to ebb. A few months from now when elections are held, the question may fade yet again into the background. But it will not stay dead.

No, it will keep rising like a Phoenix as long as democratic delivery continues to fall short of expectations. Yes, it will keep reappearing like the ghost in Hamlet as long as elected knaves keep indulging in knavery and democratic villains in villainy.

Mainstream parties say challenging their version of democracy is political heresy. Critics say the present system needs to be cleansed by non-democrats before being handed back to the elected guys.

Both are wrong.

Devoid of major structural reforms, the present system will sputter to a halt and soon may find itself in a junkyard of pious intentions. But if it is junked by extra-constitutional measures we will return to the bad old days of stern men who answer to no men.

At a crossroads yet again? Actually more like being stranded on them while others whiz by. There is however a difference this time around: a broader consensus that if mistakes have to be made, they should be new ones, and not a repetition of those done to death. So a big no to brass-laden mustachioed men with swagger sticks. A big no to foreign-based wolves in sheep’s clothing armed with quick-fix solutions. And a big no to men with big egos and small mandates who promise the moon and deliver grief.

What we are then left with are scoundrels who come riding on the backs of voters. Fine. Let’s pick the least evil. At least we can boot them out through the ballot.

Ah, but here’s the thing. We boot them out but they come back again, and again, and again. We heap abuse on them and they grin back. We pour scorn on them and they blow us emotionless kisses. We love to hate them knowing they love to hate us. But they are all we got. The damn electables just cannot get un-elected.

They lie and they cheat. They abuse their mandate and their office. They enrich themselves and fatten their families with our money. They wreck institutions and gang up to defend their own interests. They make promises only to break them. They patronize their kith and kin while leaving us to fend for ourselves. They feed on poverty and nourish themselves on misery. We have no electricity, no gas, no education, no health and no security. They have it all. We hate them.

But we elect them.

No worries. Yes, no worries because on the continuum of classic democratic evolution, we are inching forward in the right direction. In the noisy and chaotic arena we call our democratic system, there is plenty of space for plenty of people to shout aplenty. One-man rule gave way to few-men rule which in turn gave way to a rule by the elite. Now new players have gatecrashed this club. There is more activity, more criticism, more discussion and debate, and definitely a greater level of cacophony. In this arena, the judges vie for space, as do journalists and generals. In this space Imran Khan has carved out a constituency and in the same space Dr Qadri has also found a niche. There is a new world that beckons us and we are headed towards.

It’s called Pluralism.

Pluralism generates its own forces. Alliances are formed to achieve common goals. Excesses are checked and abuses are challenged. Pressures are built and accountability gathers momentum. Fighting, screaming, shouting, grappling and wrestling together, we tumble forward.

And crossroads are crossed.

It’s messy and noisy. But it is the only way. If the electables are strengthened by elections, so are we. Today these electables cheat on taxes. Tomorrow they will find it harder to do so because there will be so many more Imran Khans, Dr Qadris and Iftikhar Chaudhries who will rake them over coals to do so. Today the generals can pull strings like puppeteers, but tomorrow there will be more media and civil society bravehearts who will criticize them publicly. Today judges can judge everyone but themselves, but tomorrow many more will judge them for their judgements.

This is how the wheel spins. More voices, not less, are what we need. So yes we are in a mess, but cleaning this mess needs injecting greater plurality into this system, instead of restricting it further. If Dr Qadri brings out thousands to condemn the electables, he is putting them under needed pressure. If Imran Khan is drawing millions to him, he is scaring the two main parties into much-needed reform. It is all for good.

So yes, let’s welcome 2013 with greater vigour, greater enthusiasm – and greater hope for a Pakistan we deserve.

The writer is the host of “Tonight with Fahd” on Waqt News. Email:  Twitter: @fahdhusain