Alvi does it yet again

A partisan President

In a democratic dispensation the President is under obligation to uphold the constitution under all circumstances and adopt a non-partisan position in political disputes between the ruling and opposition parties without showing any tilt to the party he belongs. But it is really regrettable to note that President Arif Alvi has invariably acted as an activist of PTI in all situations by breaching the Constitution.

The latest unconstitutional indiscretion committed by him is the refusal to accord approval for convening the National Assembly session which must be held within 21 days after the general elections as per Article 91(2) which stipulates “The national assembly shall meet on twenty-first day following the day on which the general election to the national assembly is held unless sooner summoned by the President”.

As is abundantly clear the assembly must meet on the 21st day after the general elections which fell on February 29. He has rejected the assembly on a very flimsy excuse, contending that since the National Assembly is not complete the session cannot be convened until the allocation of special and women seats is announced. That is the position taken by his party on the issue. So his action is tantamount to supporting the party position rather than sticking to his constitutional obligation.

The ECP is already seized of the matter and the issue will be decided in a day of so, maybe before this piece is printed.  Since the results of almost all the 266 general seats have been announced, the excuse preferred by the President does not provide a legitimate ground to reject the summary in clear breach of the Constitution. There are instances where members of the assembly have taken oath much later than the inauguration of the Assembly, comprising the majority of the general seats. Reportedly the government had decided to hold the assembly session on February 29 in any case to avoid violation of the Constitution, which would be quite embarrassing for the President if he sticks to his taken position.

Perhaps it would be pertinent to recall the occasions on which he has been guilty of blatantly violating the Constitution and law at will only to benefit or support the narrative of PTI, the party to which he belongs. To begin with, he deliberately avoided taking oath from Prime Minister-elect Shehbaz Sharif, which was his constitutional obligation, by going on sick leave and consequently the acting President, Sadiq Sanjarani, administered the oath. He refused to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Cabinet and the onus again fell on Sanjrani.

He was part of the unconstitutional game plan of PTI that began with the rejection of the PDM’s no-confidence motion against Imran Khan by the Deputy Speaker followed by dissolution of the assemblies and declaration of new elections by him. It was thankfully declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, leaving no doubt about the sinister motives of the PTI leadership including the President. In fact what they did was a willful breach of the constitution. The President also remained involved in the political crisis in Punjab, playing the role of a party loyalist.

His ill intentions and commitment to support the PTI narrative and stance on different issues were amply manifested by his action to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on Article 63A of the Constitution, his reference against Mr Justice Qazi Faiz Isa to the Judicial Council.  The opinion rendered by the SC bench with a 3-2 majority on Article 63A virtually amounted to re-writing the Constitution, which is outside the power of the Supreme Court, as also contended by the dissenting judges. The opinion aggravated the political crisis in Punjab and the consequent installation of Pervez Elahi government.

Reportedly the president has atoned for his mistake regarding summoning of the National Assembly session by approval for holding the session on February 29, in line with Article 91(2). One would wish that he had avoided creating a crisis by rejecting the summary in the first instance. This belated approval is surely due to the pressure and reaction that occurred in view of his unconstitutional discretion.

President Alvi also created a bizarre confusion regarding assent to Official Secrets Bill 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2023 which were sent to him and he was supposed to give his approval or otherwise within ten days as per Article 75 of the Constitution which stipulates “When a Bill is presented to the President for assent, the President shall within ten days assent to the Bill or in the case of a Bill other than a Money Bills return the Bill to the Majlise Shura (Parliament) with a message requesting that the Bill or any specified provision thereof be reconsidered and that any amendment specified in message be considered.” He neither gave written assent nor sent it back. As the President failed to exercise either of the options in regards to these two Bills they automatically assumed the status of Acts of the Parliament.

Article 75 does not mention any third option. However the President, who did not act according to the Constitution, took the stance that he had not approved the bills and had asked his staff to return it to the concerned quarters. The staff contradicted the President’s statement and maintained that the bills were still with him. Granted that he did not approve the bills he should have returned them with the objections that he had in writing with his initials, which had been the previous practice.

He committed another unconstitutional indiscretion when he announced a date for elections in Punjab and KPK under section 57(1) of the Election Act, notwithstanding this section pertained to a situation when polls to the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies are to be held simultaneously. The President therefore used section 57(1) of the Act in the wrong context. Even in case of general elections the presidential authority to announce the date of elections is contingent upon two conditions. First as mentioned in the same section the President would announce the date in consultation with ECP and secondly as per Article 48(1) of the Constitution the President shall exercise his authority in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or the Prime Minister. So in this case he also by-passed the Prime Minister and the cabinet. As is evident the President was actually guilty of vitiating the Election Act as well as the constitution.

Reportedly the president has atoned for his mistake regarding summoning of the National Assembly session by approval for holding the session on February 29, in line with Article 91(2). One would wish that he had avoided creating a crisis by rejecting the summary in the first instance. This belated approval is surely due to the pressure and reaction that occurred in view of his unconstitutional discretion.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Malik Muhammad Ashraf is an academic. He can be contacted at: [email protected].

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