JALEES HAZIR It has been reported that President Zardari is delaying the appointment of 64 judges to the superior judiciary. The extremely unpopular president who does not tire of harping upon his awami credentials has been sitting on recommendations from the chief justices for months, hampering the ability of the under-staffed courts to dispose of the large number of cases pending before them. Apparently, the president and his yes-men, who used every trick in the book trying to stop the restoration of an independent judiciary, have still not reconciled with the idea of being accountable to an independent authority. As they maliciously pontificate about the need for institutions to stay within their limits, it is important to remind them that the constitutional limits apply to every institution of the state and not just the judiciary. And that the most glaring example of crossing constitutional parameters is the presidency under President Zardari. During his visit to Lahore last week, he once again thundered against his invisible enemies. For some time now, the president is leading a relentless and aggressive campaign against unidentified conspirators who are supposed to be out to get him. In an attempt to make his assertion more alarming, he has sought to blur any distinction between his person, his dual offices, the PPP government, democracy, the legacy of Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhuttos and the exploited awam of Pakistan; all of them being synonymous with his name if one were to believe him. Like in the case of Bena-zirs killers whose identities he claims to know, he has chosen not to disclose the names of those conspiring against him. Yet he finds it appropriate to scream and shout about them. Clearly, this is conduct most unbecoming of a head of state. Rather than creating insecurity amongst the people and fuelling the rumour mills, why doesnt he do something about these evil conspirators? After all, he is the president. In fact, he is also the chairperson of the party that is heading the government. So if he has credible information about the conspiracy and its perpetrators, he should not find it difficult to punish them for any ill-egal and unconstitutional activities that they might be engaged in. As president, he should be calming nerves rath-er than inflaming emotions and raising the political temperature. One does not have to be a constitutional expert to see how President Zardari has distorted the office of president by retaining his position as the chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party after his election. Ironically his PPP, that had fiercely opposed the functioning of the presidency under Musharraf, has no issues with its president following the same path. It objected to the rubber-stamp parliament under Musharraf but has no problem with Zardari calling the shots from the presidency. It cried murder when Musharraf held meetings with the PML-Q leadership in the presidency though he did not hold any party office but has no problem with Zardari not only holding regular party meetings at his official residence but also retaining the PPP chairmanship. What was not good for the goose seems to be good for the gander as far as the PPP-herd is concerned. Notwithstanding their hollow rhetoric about respecting the independence of judiciary and its verdicts, the president and his loyalists have consistently tried to undermine the institution through their statements and actions. More recently, they have tried to create an impression that the judiciary is overstepping its constitutional role. So while this debate has been kicked up about the constitutional role of institutions of the state and how it is imperative that the institutions perform within their constitutional am-bit, it is necessary that the role being played by the president and the elected representatives under his wing be examined as well. After all, being elected does not give you the licence to kill. Just like any other holder of public office, the elected representatives are supposed to perform their duties in service of the people. The people elect them for a certain function and they are provided privileges to help them perform that function. Naturally, people dont elect legislators to abuse their power for achieving personal ends, to indulge in corrupt practices at the expense of public welfare, to plunder state resources or to use their position for any purpose other than serving the people. Can we say that the elected representatives are performing their duties according to their constitutional role? And if they are, do we have to suffer their abuse of power and wait for the next elections to make them accountable? Theres nothing wrong with criticising the elected representatives for doing all these extra things that are not a part of their constitutional role. And if the media or the judiciary make them accountable and demand from them that they play their constitutional role rather than using their office for forwarding their personal agendas, they are actually performing their duties. And helping the elected representatives perform theirs. Perhaps those championing democracy today have forgotten that before the rule of law movement, there was no hope for democracy. The historical support that the movement generated across the length and breadth of Pakistan was not for any political party or personality, but for the supremacy of the constitution rather than arbitrary and personalised governance, and for accountability of those holding public office. For the people of Pakistan, that is the essence of democracy, not some personality-cult driven political party. It is unfortunate that the president, for his own reasons, is trying to deepen the divide between the elected representatives and institutions that are supposed to watch over them and hold them accountable. He would like us to believe that the elected representatives have no obligations other than winning elections. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In healthy democracies, the conduct of elected representatives is scrutinised very closely between elections as well, and they are answerable for any irregularity or misconduct that is reported. Given the documented evidence being produced in the media, doesnt the president feel that he needs to declare his assets and owes the people of Pakistan an explanation about how he earned them? The writer is a freelance columnist.