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Editorial: A Presidential Faux Pas

President Alvi’s failure to follow procedure in rejecting two controversial legislations has triggered a new constitutional crisis

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File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

President Arif Alvi has not done his legacy any favors by “rejecting,” rather incompetently, the amended Official Secrets and Pakistan Army acts—in a posting on X, formerly Twitter. According to his post, he asked his staff to return the bills unsigned to make them “ineffective,” but they “undermined” his “will and command.” Subsequently, the Presidency surrendered the services of Secretary to President Waqar Ahmed, suggesting he had refused to act on Alvi’s orders. Seeking to nullify this view, Ahmed has gone public with his own recollection of events, maintaining the president never reverted the bills to him and they were likely still on his desk. This back-and-forth has effectively cast a pall over the presidency of Alvi and created a negative image of his person—not to mention the functioning of the entire government apparatus.

To be clear: the laws in question are draconian in nature and should never have been legislated in the first place. As president, Alvi had a clear path to reject them, which would also have facilitated members of the PTI, especially Imran Khan, who would undoubtedly have appreciated his steps. Rather than following procedure, Alvi behaved in a manner unbecoming of both his status as a senior politician and as the President of Pakistan. It is now clear he never sent back the bills, letting them lie unattended until the stipulated timeframe had elapsed, raising questions over whether he was playing a “trick” that is now recoiling on him. The office of the president in Pakistan is largely akin to that of a post office, with few time-consuming functions, further emphasizing his inability to ensure a procedure was followed that he—five years into his tenure—has followed multiple times.

Following the claims of his now-former secretary, Alvi must make clear whether he simply “forgot” or just didn’t care enough about the bills to ensure they had been rejected. If he was under pressure to sign the bills, despite objections, this should also be made public. This is no minor matter: Alvi’s post may well mark the first time in Pakistan’s history that the office of the president has been brought into such disrepute. Legal experts have also stressed that it is “beyond comprehension” that the matter could be laid to rest in a social media post, demanding the president approach the apex court to get the bills withdrawn if he truly objects to them on principle. The two bills are now Schrodinger’s laws; both legal and illegal, triggering a constitutional crisis that can only be resolved by an interpretation of the Supreme Court. It is truly unfortunate that Alvi preferred inaction over outright rejection, and rather than pursuing corrective actions, has sought the “forgiveness” of those who might fall under the laws’ purview, suggesting he, too, now considers his “assent” to have been deemed.

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