Dr Arif Alvi has just completed his constitutional five-year term as the 13th President of Pakistan in a tenure rife with controversies. Instead of packing his bags and making the long journey to his home in the port city of Karachi, Dr Alvi seems to have dug in for a long 'extension'.
His extended stay in the President's House has his parent party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in a jubilant mood amidst the doom and gloom surrounding them with former prime minister and party chairman Imran Khan stuck behind bars.
On September 9, 2018, Dr Alvi, a professional dentist from Karachi, took oath as the 13th President of Pakistan. He had secured the necessary votes in a hung parliament helmed by the PTI.
He saw off his predecessor, another Karachi native, 12th President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, in a simple but symbolic change of guard.
Many had at the time wagered that Dr Alvi would not be as docile as his predecessor. But even they could not have predicted what would transpire over the next five years.
Alvi's presidential election was the leverage first-time rulers from PTI needed to get their rag-tag coalition off the ground rather than get mired in parliamentary squabbles. Moreso, since the PTI did not yet have the numbers it needed to secure a direct majority in the Senate.
It is perhaps in this vein that Alvi's tenure should be looked at.
Such was his conduct that throughout his tenure, he had to repeatedly proclaim that he was performing his responsibilities impartially -- as the head of state is required -- and not as the representative of any party. Despite that, many of his decisions left sufficient room for critics and political observers to raise their fingers.
Some of Alvi's most controversial decisions include how, on November 24, 2022, after receiving a summary from then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif picking out a name for appointing the next army chief, the President jetted off to Lahore to discuss the name with the deposed prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan face-to-face. Alvi returned after a few hours and did the only thing he could at that time: approve the summary and appoint General Syed Asim Munir as the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS) for the Pakistani military.
Earlier, he had created trouble for himself when he promptly dissolved the National Assembly.
On April 3, 2022, Alvi acted on a summary sent by then prime minister Imran Khan. The summary came after NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri declared a motion of no-confidence invoked by the opposition a conspiracy and scuppered it. The move was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and the speaker was directed to hold a vote on the no-confidence motion. Imran eventually lost the vote and became the first prime minister in Pakistan's history to be removed through a democratic process.
After Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the new leader of the house and thus the prime minister, Alvi decided to skip the oath-taking ceremony. This was significant because, as President, he had to administer the oath to the prime minister. With Alvi missing, Sharif had to take oath from Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani (As senate chairman, Sanjrani is the defacto vice president of the country and acts in the absence of the President).
Recently, there was controversy over the schedule of elections when he invited the Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to visit him so that they could decide on a date for the general elections in consultation with each other. Raja, however, snubbed the invitation, stating that a consultation would be of "scant consequence" as the laws had been amended where the ECP was empowered to issue a date for the elections.
Then, there was his reference in the Supreme Judicial Council against senior Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa in May 2019. The reference was eventually dumped out a year later and deemed it "mala fide in law". The 173-page judgement by a full court bench contained some harsh words for President Alvi but stopped short of issuing directions against him, ostensibly due to the immunity his office enjoys.
These incidents provided an opportunity for the opposition to raise fingers over the President's neutrality. But none of them ever attempted to deseat him.
Even though his term has ended, the Constitution contains provisions that allow Alvi to continue until a successor is elected.
Hence, legally, he can remain President until his successor is elected to office, whenever that may be.
According to Article 44 (1) of the Constitution, President shall continue to hold office even after his term expires until a new president is elected and assumes office.
The national and four provincial assemblies stand dissolved at the moment, having completed their constitutional tenures. After fresh elections, when the electoral college, comprising the Senate, the National Assembly and all the provincial assemblies, becomes available, a new president will be elected.
Meanwhile, sources in the Presidency have told The Friday Times that the President has not given any indication to his staff about leaving office or announcing the schedule for the upcoming general elections.
Around two weeks ago, the President had written to the CEC to hold consultations on a date for elections, but the latter refused.
PTI's man in Islamabad
Meanwhile, there are mixed feelings over Alvi's extended stay in Islamabad in the PTI camp.
While the party continues to face tough times with many of its leaders -- including party chairman Imran Khan -- stuck behind bars under one pretext or another while thousands of workers and supporters face the possibility of military trials for the events of May 9, it has some respite in Alvi occupying a high office in government.
Talking to The Friday Times, PTI member Waleed Iqbal said that President Arif Alvi could constitutionally serve until a new President is elected after the general elections.
Iqbal added that President Alvi has been performing his duty and fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities well.
To question any benefit the PTI has in having Alvi as the head of state, Iqbal remained tight-lipped.
Other PTI members, who did not wish to be named, viewed Alvi's presence in the President's House as important symbolism for the party.
They also backed Alvi to continue in the position until a successor is elected and there is a natural handover of power.
Meanwhile, senior legal expert Ahmed Awais told The Friday Times that the only legal option to remove Alvi as President was to impeach him.
But given the current scenario with the national assembly dissolved, there was no chance of that happening.
"[His] opponents had one chance of impeachment, but now, in the current political scenario, it is not possible," he said.