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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 643, 16 August 2023

President returns bills; will have to wait for the next Parliament



The collapse of the political establishment has raised the likelihood of people opposing the return of certain political regimes.

Genesy Balasingam

On 16 August, President Arif Alvi returned over a dozen bills for the reconsideration of the parliament. These bills will be considered and agreed upon following the general elections and the formation of a new National Assembly. With the dissolution of the National Assembly,  the uncertainties surrounding general elections, and the new NA, this evaluation has been postponed indefinitely. The returning laws were passed by both houses of parliament towards the tail end of the PML-N-led government's term without due review and in the presence of only 15 governing coalition lawmakers. The President has returned these legislation as they do not comply with the constitution's requirements or with the standards of parliamentary processes. These bills on the agendas were also not referred to the appropriate committees. The bills did not come from the NA and were sent directly to the Senate without any analysis or comprehensive deliberation, which will be problematic in the future. Within an hour of the session, which was presided over by the Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf, the house had approved 29 of the 36 proposals. This has been interpreted as a ploy to avoid the responsibility of enacting such laws. 

Among these proposals is a bill to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to enhance the penalty for disrespecting the Holy Prophet (PBUH), his companions, and other religious leaders, from three to at least ten years in prison. This appeared to benefit some specific personalities. Other returned bills include the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies, and Books Registration Amendment Bill, which attempts to replace the word "federal government" with "Prime Minister" wherever it appears in the law. Given the region's current political insecurity, this substitution gives the caretaker Prime Minister more power. This further translates to an advantage to other parties in being able to blame the caretaker government for tighter laws and their repercussions, which will aid contesting parties in securing votes in the next elections which have been delayed.

The collapse of the political establishment, along with the climate catastrophe, currency depreciation, inflation, and the lack of a solid administration, has raised the likelihood of people opposing the return of certain political regimes. As a result, hastily enacting these laws has allowed political parties to purchase more time in order to re-establish themselves as an avenue through which the region might rebuild stability. Restrictions on the fourth pillar of democracy is a tactic for limiting public opinion and restricting government criticism, resulting in a lack of accountability between the government and the people. President Alvi has also returned the Higher Education Commission (HEC) measure, which sought to extend the term of the HEC chairman to four years. Other legislations that have been returned include the public sector commission amendment bill.

(Iftikhar A. Khan, “President Alvi returns over a dozen bills,” Dawn, 16 August 2023; Waqas Ahmed, “President returns 13 bills unsigned ,” The Express Tribune, 16 August 2023)

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