The cacophony of politicking is coming to a fever pitch in the runup to July 25. And while a largely unprincipled media has the vast majority of the nation hooked onto a daily staple of leader this and party that, nobody stops to ask whether the entire exercise is merely to affect a transfer of power to yet another section of the entrenched elite, to the same people in a different guise, or even to newer puppets in the same old hands. Our obsession with high-politics is such that we believe that by simply electing a “good” person to the top, goodness will flow all around and all perceived wrongs will be righted. Democracy, on the contrary, is bottom-up in essence. How the vote is solicited, mobilised, and cast across the towns and villages of the country ultimately, decides how good or bad the nature of the resultant system will be. Unfortunately, so long as the vote remains tied to considerations of ‘biradri’ and tribalism, of ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation, of male domination, of an elected representative being primarily a negotiator between a hostile state and society, electoral democracy will continue to yield sub-optimal results. Even more importantly, we wilfully ignore the economic determinism that governs the vote. The way our economy is structured at the baseline, can a tenant vote against his landlord, a factory worker against the employer, or a farmer against the neighbouring landowner whose large estate he must traverse to access the road, canal water, and the rest of the outside world? When economic power drives the vote, it is no more than rent-seeking by the powerful, with the fruits of democracy accumulating exclusively in the hands of the rentiers. The democracy that our economically powerful intelligentsia claim as the panacea for all our societal ills is largely western in conception. Whereas individual self-determination and a refined, socially responsible stage of capitalism define political and economic reality in the western countries, the same is obviously not true for us. A privileged individual inhabiting one of the few cosmopolitan pockets in the country may benefit from free speech and the right to think lofty thoughts on her journey towards self-actualisation, but what of those whose entire existence is essentially un-free? Who has been repeatedly failed by the vote to guarantee some basic inalienable rights and a social security net? While on the subject of democracy’s failings, the question is often reduced to a simplistic civil-military binary. The basic argument is that had democracy been allowed to proceed uninterrupted since 1947, the system would have weeded out of its shortcomings over a few iterations of the electoral exercise. Although,a “what-if?” line of reasoning is attractive because it allows for imagining a parallel reality, democratic experience in the West, which has arguably been underway since 1215 and has benefited greatly from the immense loot and plunder of colonialism and neo-colonialism, still smacks of “elite capture.” Although, a “what-if?” line of reasoning is attractive because it allows for imagining a parallel reality, democratic experience in the West, which has arguably been underway since 1215 and has benefited greatly from the immense loot and plunder of colonialism and neo-colonialism, still smacks of “elite capture” How then should one assume that democracy would have ushered in social justice and equality in a country like ours which was firmly saddled with an exploitative elite even before it came into being, in many forms: military, spiritual, feudal, bureaucratic, and later, commercial-industrial and theocratic? The fact remains that the principal theatre of conflict between civil and military is the realm of “high politics”. And both elites have been equally willing to brutally exploit the socioeconomic fissures to further their respective sectional interests and to extort as much national wealth as possible. When it comes to improving the lot of the wretched common man, however, both civil and military elites display a callousness befitting an invader ruling restive enemy territory. And while the military dictator’s lack of concern for the common good was natural, the civilians’ haughty disregard is perversely counterintuitive. Also, it is not always daggers drawn between civil and military leadership. Often, where interests coalesce, you see eager collusion as well; CPEC is a case in point, which has been sold to the populace as yet another promise of a golden future. The trending poster-boy for democracy who has very recently been packed off to Adiala Jail is yet to utter a word against the military’s business empire. He only talks about terrorism and geopolitics so as to sway the global elite in his favour. It stands to reason then that the right to make fortunes is sacred among the elites and that there is honour among thieves after all. So why should an average man, unable to afford private education, health and housing, unaligned with any elite interests, living mealtime to mealtime in a sub-human state with zero prospects for upward social mobility care about whether he is ruled from Rawalpindi or Islamabad? The state has given him nothing in any tenure. From every incoming ruler, he has only heard how evil the previous ruler was. He has only seen those who claim to serve him, serve themselves. To him, all this high politics, elections, or the civil-military tug-of-war, is only good for one thing: entertainment. He is about as interested in it as he would be in watching in a cockfight: engrossed in the sheer thrill of the contest. One aspect of our top-down political evolution is undeniable: the rot that started at the head now pervades the entire body politic. The people have learned from the elites how “success” is to be achieved in Pakistan. Consequently, the general mood is either cynical or opportunistic. In the footsteps of their leaders, civil and military, the people invoke religion, Pakistani nationalism, socialismas the guiding lights out of our existential problems. Yet, the operative, underlying principle always seems to be Ayn Rand’s ruthless primacy of self-interest. What that portends, in the long-term, for a federation as fractious as ours, I cannot say. To paraphrase from Salman Haider of the kidnapped bloggers’ fame, our system of government has not been created to allow for radical change from within. In fact, electoral democracy all around the world is often criticised for being an instrument for the preservation of the status quo. The situation in Pakistan calls for radical change that must erupt outside of the system. Given the very high probability though that any such political upheaval will be hijacked by religious fundamentalists in no time, a la Iran circa 1979, there is only one question left to ask: when is the next dinghy to Europe? The writer is is a public-sector economic development professional and a part-time farmer in Multan. He tweets at @langahwhotweets Published in Daily Times, July 18th 2018.