President Arif Alvi: An Era Full Of Constitutional Controversies

Ghosts of the Presidency could continue to haunt Dr Arif Alvi even after leaving the hallowed halls of Aiwan-e-Sadr where he will perhaps be remembered as someone who had a hard time leaving behind his political affiliation and activism

President Arif Alvi: An Era Full Of Constitutional Controversies

Saturday's election for a new President will simultaneously bring the curtain down on the tenure of the outgoing President, Dr Arif Alvi. As he prepares to exit the Aiwan-e-Sadr after five years, Alvi leaves behind a troubled legacy punctuated with controversies and of locking horns with the elected governments and state institutions. Most of all, he will be remembered as a president who demonstrated, more than most, that he firmly wore a hat with his party colours under his presidential hat throughout his tenure as he proved to be an 'oppositional president'.

The fact that he now leaves the Presidency on a path lined with prickly thorns of criticism and the dark clouds overhead of potential prosecution for violating the Constitution show that the tale of Arif Alvi is long from over.

A dentist by profession, the Karachi-origin head of state first came under criticism when he dissolved the National Assembly on then Prime Minister Imran Khan's advice under Article 58 (1), read with Article 48(1) of the Constitution in April 2022. It was argued that Alvi approved the prime minister's advice even though the prime minister was barred from sending such an advice after a request to hold the vote of no-confidence had been moved.

Alvi's announcement came at a time when former National Assembly deputy speaker Qasim Khan Suri rejected the no-trust motion against former Prime Minister Imran Khan before it could take place, political and constitutional experts shared the historical background with The Friday Times.

The national assembly was later restored on the orders of the Supreme Court, which took exception to President Arif Alvi's role. The top court noted that his decision was "contrary to the Constitution and the law and of no legal effect".

Subsequently, a successful no-confidence motion was held for the first time in the country's political history, and the prime minister was ousted through a constitutional move.

Most recently, President Arif Alvi was blamed for violating the Constitution after he waited until the very last second to summon a session of the National Assembly for elected lawmakers to take oath. He did so after twice rejecting summaries from the caretaker prime minister, citing the pretext of the issue of allocation of reserved seats. He only issued the summons after the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs unilaterally notified the National Assembly to meet the Constitutional stipulation under Article 91(2) to call a session for elected lawmakers to take oath within 21 days after the general elections.

This move by Alvi once again allowed Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and senior politicians from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to criticise the President for breaching the Constitution.

Political observers rejected President Alvi's excuse for not summoning a session of the National Assembly simply because it was incomplete. They pointed to numerous past instances where assembly members took oath after the inauguration of the assembly.

Talking to The Friday Times, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the outgoing Speaker of the National Assembly, said that he had to summon the inaugural session on the advice of the caretaker prime minister as the President had twice refused a summary from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

The role of President Alvi was also criticised when he called in sick and skipped the ceremony to administer the oath of office to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif after the latter was elected to replace Imran Khan after the no-trust motion. Alvi was accused of acting as an activist of the PTI rather than as an impartial functionary of the federation while breaching the Constitution.

Another move by President Arif Alvi, which was heavily criticised, was when he returned the summary for the Official Secrets Bill 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2023. According to the Constitution, when a bill is presented to the President for assent, the President shall, within ten days, assent to the bill or return it to the Parliament. However, when a notification was issued confirming the two laws after the Presidency did not communicate to the Parliament whether he had assented to or rejected the bills in time, the President later claimed he had rejected the bills and blamed his staff for not communicating his decision in time.

The President found himself surrounded by controversy after locking horns with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on issuing a date for elections after the dissolution of the assemblies at the end of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government's tenure. He publicly exchanged arguments with the Chief Election Commissioner on issuing a date for the general elections and ensuring that elections occur in the stipulated 90 days. Later, after the matter went to court, which forced the President and the CEC to decide a date for elections, it emerged that it was the prerogative of the President to issue a date for general elections, which he failed to do.

Then, there was the strange way President Arif Alvi approved the summary and appointed the new Chief of Army Staff. After receiving the summary, Alvi decided to travel to Lahore to meet with PTI chairman Imran Khan before returning to Islamabad a few hours later to sign it.

Talking to the The Friday Times, constitutional expert and former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary Kanwar Dilshad said his role in the episode was controversial. 

"Why did the President go all the way to Zaman Park to share and discuss a summary with former PM Imran Khan about the appointment of COAS?" he asked, mentioning that there were many constitutional ways to handle the situation, but the President's role should be unbiased and should also appear to be unbiased.

The President was targeted by the main political parties, including the PML-N and PPP, when he announced a date for elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under Section 57(1) of the Election Act, notwithstanding that this section pertained to a situation when polls to the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies are to be held simultaneously.

When contacted, senior PML-N MNA Riaz Hussain Pirzada shared with The Friday Times that President Alvi was not vicious in character.

"President Alvi is a thorough gentleman, but at some moments, his tilt towards his party was exposed," Pirzada commented.

In the misconduct reference filed by Alvi against incumbent Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, a 10-judge full court hearing found that President Arif Alvi did not form a considered opinion under Article 209(5) of the Constitution and therefore the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa 'suffered with multiple defects'.

"The president, in forming his opinion, sought the advice of the law minister and the AGP, both of whom were involved in the preparation of the reference and therefore had a conflict of interest," the 178-page verdict said, adding, "Consequently, keeping in view these circumstances, we find that the president's independent application of mind is lacking in the present case."

The number times the court deemed Alvi's actions as violating the Constitution and the fights he picked with institutions defined his tenure. While Alvi would like to be remembered as someone who always sought to uphold the Constitution and the law, reality does not support his belief.