ISLAMABAD: The mandatory address of the president to the joint sitting of parliament has become due with the start of the final parliamentary year of the National Assembly on August 14.

However, it seems the incumbent coalition government is in no hurry to fulfil this constitutional requirement as the Presi­dency is yet to receive a request from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs in this regard, sources at the Presidency told Dawn.

Article 56(3) of the Constitution states that “at the commencement of the first session after each general election to the National Assembly and at the commencement of the first session of each year, the president shall address both Houses assembled together and inform the Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament) of the causes of its summons”.

National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has already adjourned the joint sitting of parliament twice, without assigning any reason, and now it is scheduled to be held on September 22. It is still not clear if the government will invite the president to address the joint sitting on Sept 22 or it will convene a special session for this purpose.

Presidency yet to ‘receive invite’ with joint sitting slated for Sept 22

On the other hand, the sources at the Presidency said the staff concerned had already prepared the draft of the speech which would soon be sent to President Alvi for approval.

They said as per the past practice, they had sent letters to all the ministries, asking them to apprise the president of their performance during the previous parliamentary year. The speech, they said, had been prepared after receiving input from all the ministries.

According to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Raza Rabbani, it has been a tradition in countries having parliamentary democracy that a president delivers a written speech provided to him by the sitting government. However, he said, the president could make changes in the text without changing the context. He said that since it was merely a tradition, a number of former presidents in Pakistan had preferred to deliver their own written speeches.

The members of both houses then hold a general debate on the president’s address for which no time frame has been given in the Constitution or the rules of the two houses.

President Alvi had in the past remained a target of severe criticism by the previous opposition parties, now sitting in the government, for allegedly undermining parliament by issuing a record number of ordinances under the PTI government.

The opposition had also threatened to move a resolution for his impeachment when the Supreme Court overturned his notifications regarding the appointment of the members of the Election Commission of Pakistan and the extension in the tenure of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

President Alvi had refused to administer the oath to Shehbaz Sharif after his election as the country’s prime minister in April this year following the ouster of Imran Khan from the office through a vote of no confidence.

President Alvi came under criticism again when he refused to give his assent to the election reforms and NAB amendment bills despite their passage from the National Asse­mbly and the Senate. Mr Alvi has already addressed parliament four times since assuming office in September 2018 when his party, the PTI, was ruling the country. He always showered praise on the PTI.

Parliamentary experts say that this time, the president will be confronted with a different situation as he will be required to review the performance of two different governments.

Besides reviewing the eight-month performance of the former ruling PTI, the president will also have to analyse the four-month rule of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government comprising his political rivals.

Last year, Dr Alvi addressed the joint sitting of the two houses of parliament on September 13 amid strong protests by the then opposition parties. “Shout but accept the reality that the country is passing through the path of industrial growth,” the president had said while praising the PTI government and responding to the opposition’s protest and shouting.

The opposition members led by then-opposition leader Shebaz Sharif and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari raised slogans when the president started his speech, surrounded the speaker’s dais and later boycotted the session, providing him an environment conducive to completing his speech amid applauds through desk-thumping by the treasury members.

Interestingly, the president had addressed parliament with an empty press gallery. It was for the first time in the country’s parliamentary history that the National Assembly Secretariat barred journalists from covering the session.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2022

Categorized in: