Our democracy circus is getting to be rather macabre. The clowns running the government spend billions on one metro-bus line but say they don’t have money to set up the Joint Intelligence Directorate, a cornerstone of the National Security Policy which was announced not long ago by the same clowns to counter what has been identified as the biggest threat to Pakistan— terrorism. These days, the political show no longer appears to be a circus. It is clearly turning into a black comedy which would be funny if the dark consequences weren’t so real for all of us.

The MQM and PPP are juggling with divisive identity politics. Tahirul Qadri has done his disappearing act after polluting the environment with non-stop mantras of violence. Other masters of illusion, the maulanas in our midst, continue to cast God in the image of their political outfits. The acrobats and trapeze artists are swinging about. The most promising hope for bringing some order in the house has been effectively defanged with the PTI’s ring master shouting everyday about change surrounded by beasts of status-quo. As the world falls apart around us, we are told to sit and watch the show, waiting for democracy to mature and deliver even as it self-destructs in full public view.

Everything seems to be topsy turvy. The prime minister behaves as if the villages along the Sialkot working boundary were not being attacked by India and insists on sending Modi sweet things as presents on every half-occasion that presents itself. The leader of the opposition seeks a three-month extension from the Supreme Court to do his part in the long-delayed nomination of the Chief Election Commissioner. Not content with his boring administrative work, the imported Governor of Punjab is seen holding meetings in Quetta and Peshawar as if he were a political leader. We must take it all in our stride with the sweet pill of democracy.

The big and small champions of democracy running governments in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakkhtunkhwa are not pushed about holding elections for local bodies that should have taken place years ago. Despite mounting evidence of rigging in the 2013 general elections, there is no headway in the election tribunals, let alone progress towards conducting a special audit. We must trust the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms to improve the electoral system without ascertaining what actually ails it. The resignation of PTI MNAs hangs in the air. No elections have been announced but political parties are holding jalsas as if they were around the corner.

The MQM has parted ways with the Sindh government yet again. It wants the division of Sindh on administrative grounds but refers to the proposed province comprising Karachi and Hyderabad as Muhajir sooba. It says it is a national party but it constantly flashes the muhajir card. One day its London-based chief praises the army to the sky and the next day he threatens it. It claims to be a party promoting liberal values but it doesn’t mind bringing blasphemy charges against Khursheed Shah for badmouthing muhajirs.

The PPP seems no longer interested in living up to its claims of being charoon soobon ki zanjeer and is playing up the Sindh card to retain what it considers to be its family fief. It has launched the joke called Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as the next heir to the Bhutto dynasty. It positions itself as the party of the downtrodden but its chief minister in Sindh doesn’t want to deal with the calamity in Thar. The former prime minister from the party, Yousaf Raza Gillani, has no words of regret to offer for the murder of a young man on a motorbike killed by his son’s bodyguards. The PML-Q is aligning its political strategy with the shifty cleric from Canada.

The noisy circus is hardly amusing. A closer look at the people in the stands is all we need to understand why it is not funny. A mother kills her children and commits suicide because she cannot feed them. A man kills his family for the same reason. As public debt mounts and public assets are privatized at throw-away prices to front-men and cronies or for considerations of kickbacks and commissions, people become poorer and everything becomes more expensive. The powerful are seen literally getting away with murder. Even when caught with blood on their hands or their hand in the till, they are never punished. The law is a stick to beat the poor and the weak into submission.

It is not only the ruling parties and the thugs they patronize at every level. The circus features the entire elitist club of power players huddled in the parliament, and some outside it. They put up staged fights for people in the stands. Behind the stage, they scratch and pat each other’s backs and meet over a cup of tea at the end of the day’s show. They know that no democracy circus is complete without a colorful variety of acts. Insecure and impoverished, the people in the stand must choose their favorite act and clap for it.

The failure of our democracy project to pave the way for governance in the larger public interest and to grapple with challenges staring the nation in the eye, has largely been attributed to the fact that our political leaders are obsessed with forwarding their petty personal and partisan interests. It is assumed that they are not really aware of how their actions are pushing us all towards disaster. In fact, we are expected to believe that they actually mean to make things better and push them in the right direction, and it is only their roadmaps that are different and fraught with problems. In other words, they are only mistaken or naïve at best.

On the face of it, the clowns, acrobats, magicians and ring-masters, the diverse battery of our political leaders, are performing their acts with the haphazardness of a circus. Look closely and you’ll begin to see that they are actually like characters from a well-scripted theatrical play, each one playing the part to bring the black comedy to its sad scripted end.

The writer is a freelance columnist.