Pakistan president’s refusal to sign bills prompts constitutional concerns

Pakistani President Arif Alvi announced on social media Sunday that he asked his staff to return a pending espionage bill and a pending military bill to Parliament unsigned, raising constitutional concerns from the country’s Ministry of Law and Justice. The two bills at issue are the Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 and the Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023.

Following President Alvi’s statement, Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice contended that the president does not have the authority to simply return bills unsigned and that he “purposely delayed” signing off on the laws. According to the state-run Radio Pakistan, the ministry noted the president only has two options under Article 75 of the Pakistani Constitution: grant assent to bills or return them to Parliament with written observations. If Alvi did have issues with the bills, the Ministry said the appropriate course would have been to refer them back with comments for Parliament to consider, as he has done in the past.

In response to the president’s post, the opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) expressed “deep concern” over the tweet and stated, “The president’s tweet is unusual, alarming, and unimaginable in every way.”

The controversy surrounding the Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 revolves around its provisions related to sedition, spying, and espionage, with potential penalties including capital punishment. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 has drawn criticism for its restrictions on political activities by retired military personnel and officers who held sensitive positions. The bill also includes penalties for defaming or ridiculing the army on digital or social media platforms.