Another stand off is brewing between the Presidency and the parliament (or read government) as President Dr Arif Alvi has returned the recently passed bills by the two houses of parliament about amendments to election and accountability laws to the government for another round of “consideration and detailed deliberations” by parliament and its committees. Earlier, the president sat on a summary seeking the appointment of a new governor in Punjab and delayed it as much as it could be under the law. But in a rare friendly gesture, he accepted the summary about the new governor forwarded to him by the prime minister when the deadline was about to expire. The government had passed the bills in the parliament in a haste, and many eyebrows were raised about the abrupt movement and passage of the bills. Some quarters had foreseen the hurdles coming from the Presidency as the president can return the bills under Article 75(1) of the Constitution. The article reads: “When a bill is presented to the president for assent, the president shall, within [ten] days (a) assent to the bill; or (b) in the case of a bill other than a money bill, return the bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) with a message requesting that the bill or any specified provision thereof, be reconsidered and that any amendment specified in the message be considered.”
The government has left with the only option of calling a joint session of the parliament and get the bills passed again and after that the president’s assent could be waived off. The two bills matter a lot for the incumbent coalition government as after the amended NAB bills become law, most of the people from the government side facing cases in NAB, would have a sigh of relief. Similarly, with the passage of the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022, the government will get rid of the laws that allow i-voting by overseas Pakistanis and the use of electronic voting machines in the next general elections. The coalition government knows that the rival Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has formidable support among overseas Pakistanis, which will only benefit former prime minister Imran Khan in the elections. Similarly, the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, abolishes the powers of the National Accountability Bureau. President Alvi’s objection to the hasty passage of the bill also lends credence, and the National Assembly and the Senate committees should have been given enough time to discuss the bills. Similarly, the election bills had some positive aspects, such as the use of modern technology, and giving the right to vote to overseas Pakistanis. NAB powers, however, should be clipped as it has become a victimization tool.