As Parliament Wraps Up, Will President Alvi Play Ball On Last Minute Bills

As Parliament Wraps Up, Will President Alvi Play Ball On Last Minute Bills
With the coalition government reaching a consensus on dissolving the national and provincial assemblies next week, its last 'controversial move' (the hasty approval of dozens of laws and amendments) still hangs in the balance, with a key role to be played by the most unsuspecting of characters.

President Dr Arif Alvi is the final stumbling block to whether these 'efforts' of the incumbent government are a success or a failure. Should he refuse to sign them into law, a plethora of bills could be put into limbo in the absence of an elected parliament to rectify them for at least the next three months.

In the last session of the 15th National Assembly and that of the Senate, over two dozen bills were rushed through while ignoring parliamentary traditions.

So far, President Alvi has given his seal of approval to three major bills under Article 75 of the Constitution.

Despite that, a long list of bills await his signature.

One pivotal bill that has received the President's approval is the Elections Amendment Bill 2023. This draft legislation aims to introduce several amendments to the existing Election Act of 2017.

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Another bill green listed by President Alvi is the Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund 2023.  This law will see the establishment of a Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Dr Alvi has also signed the Pakistan Airports Authority Bill 2023 into law. This will allow the government to outsource the management of airports in Pakistan to lower the bills the government has to pay on critical infrastructure.

Per the bill, the Pakistan Airports Authority will be set up and hoped to streamline and elevate the administration and operation of airports across the country.

However, the large pile of unsigned bills contain the controversial 'Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023' and the 'Official Secrets (amendment) Act'.

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It is pertinent to mention here that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTII) has launched a probe into the role of some of its senators in passing amendments to the Pakistan Army Act 1952 in the upper house of Parliament earlier this week.

The amendments propose a jail term of up to five years for those who disclose sensitive information about the country's security or the military and accord more powers to the chief of army staff, among other amendments.

In a statement, the PTI said that party chief Imran Khan presided over a meeting of their core committee to deliberate on the role of PTI senators in passing the amendments.

After those senators, it is now a test for President Alvi whether he will sign into law a bill which has received opposition from his party's chairman.

What is the Pakistan Army Amendment Act?

'The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023' seeks to add to Section 26-A to the act, under which "anyone who discloses or causes to be disclosed any information…shall be […] punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years".

If the army chief approves the disclosure, it would not be considered a violation.

The bill also proposes the introduction of Section 26-B, which forbids any person subject to the Army Act from engaging in any political activity for two years from the date of their 'retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service".

It further said those who "remained posted, employed, seconded, tasked or otherwise attached on sensitive duties" are forbidden from taking part in "political activity of any kind, during a period of five years from the date of his retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service".

Alvi's fractured relation with PDM govt

The President, who was elected to parliament on a PTI ticket before he was elected President, has created innumerable hurdles for the incumbent government since it took the reins from Imran Khan 17 months ago.

From obstructing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's oath-taking ceremony to creating hurdles in approving bills, Alvi has not been the easiest to deal with for the coalition government. He even flew all the way to meet and discuss with Imran Khan the summary sent to him for appointing the army chief.

Constitutional experts suggest that the ball is currently in President Alvi's court to approve the laws passed in recent weeks.

However, they believe the situation will become clear once the incumbent government goes home in less than a week and the caretakers come in.

So far, Dr Alvi has signed several bills into law, including Defense Housing Authority Islamabad (Amendment) Bill 2023 to amend the Defense Housing Authority Islamabad Act, 2013; Petroleum (Amendment) Bill, 2023 aimed at amending the Petroleum Act of 1934; Pakistan Nursing Council (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which provided for amending the Pakistan Nursing Council Act, 1973; Board of Investment (Amendment) Bill 2023; providing for amending the Board of Investments Ordinance, 2001; Pakistan General Cosmetics Bill, 2023; Cantonments (Amendment) Bill 2023; Qanun-e-Shahadat (Amendment) Bill 2023 providing for amending the Qanun-e-Shahadat of 1984; and Control of Narcotics Substances (Amendment) Bill 2023 which provided for amending the Control of Narcotics Substances Act of 1997.