The President and legislation

Refusal of assent smacks of partisanship

President Arif Alvi’s return for reconsideration of two bills smacks of a partisan spirit that ill becomes his office. The Shehbaz government’s entire legislative programme, in the shape of the National Accountability (Amendments) Bill 2022 and the Elections (Amendment) bill 2022, has thus been refused assent. However, this will serve as a delaying tactic only, both the bills cannot be refused assent if they are passed again. However, this means that the government will have to find the space on the legislative calendar if it wants the bills passed again. The precedent so far, with the latest example being the Sindh Local Government Bill in December 2021, which was passed on November 26, refused assent, and passed again on December 11. The Sindh Governor did not accord assent, but the bills were notified as passed after the passage of ten days.

This attention to the fine print of legislation, which includes the President having suggested amendments to the bills, contrasts with his cavalier rubber-stamping of whatever legislative or executive actions the PTI government sent up to him. This included not just legislation, but also the promulgation of ordinances, none of which he ever asked to be reconsidered, which he could have done using the same provisions as he did to sway the appointment of the new Punjab Governor. It was also notable that he used this power of asking for reconsideration to push the PTI’s point of view, which he did in the letter he sent while asking for reconsideration. It is the PTI’s own fault that the President is its only means of doing so; had it not been for the ill-considered decision to resign from the National Assembly, it would have been able vocally to express its point of view.

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The President is a politician, but the office is not supposed to be partisan, and its powers are certainly not supposed to be used to further political ends. This particularly applies to the sort of pointless posturing that President Alvi seems to be indulging in. His refusal to swear in the PM, then this ministers, and his foot-dragging over the Punjab Governor, merely showed that he may be able to cause some inconvenience, but he is not able to make the government deviate from its purpose, so long as it makes up its mind. President Alvi has merely shown the limits of presidential power, without achieving anything.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]


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