The election of PTI nominee Dr. Arif Alvi as the president of Pakistan marks the successful completion of the third democratic transition in the country. Earlier, the PTI won the speakership of the National Assembly followed by the election of Imran Khan as prime minister.
Now a third elected parliament and provincial assemblies have elected a new president in a little over a decade since the return of civilian government in Pakistan. Emerging as a majority party in the recent general elections, the PTI and allied parties have formed governments at the center, in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while in Balochistan the PTI is in alliance with regional parties.
Arif Alvi sailed through comfortably by winning the support of a majority of the members of Parliament and the provincial assemblies, with JUI-F President Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party trailing way behind
Under the special voting formula for the office of the president, there is one member, one vote, for the Senate and the National Assembly. The same formula applies to Balochistan Assembly where there are 65 members that account for 65 votes. For other provincial assemblies, the vote quota for each assembly is equal to the Balochistan Assembly (65). This means that the total number of members (where it is more than 65) is divided in such a manner that each assembly has 65 votes.
Dr. Alvi was the consensus candidate of the ruling party, the PTI, supported by the MQM, GDA, BNP, PML-Q, AML and independents in different assemblies while the first runner up Maulana Fazlur Rehman enjoyed the support of PML-N, MMA, ANP, PKMAP and National Party. Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, the second runner up, was backed by the Pakistan People’s Party.
In the run-up to the presidential poll it seemed that it would be a tough contest, given the large number of opposition members both in the Senate and provincial assemblies, but the split in the ranks of the opposition parties went in favour of Arif Alvi. The presidential election serves as a lesson to the opposition that unless it learns to put aside its petty differences, it cannot hope to wield any influence for the next five years. Had the now-failed Pakistan Alliance managed to pitch one candidate, there was a chance it could have manipulated the numbers to grab the last powerful position in the government.
To the extent that the election, an important democratic milestone, has not been marred by allegations of misconduct or rigging, the new president, Arif Alvi, makes an auspicious start. After the election, as a goodwill gesture, President-elect Dr. Arif Alvi vowed to serve the people as a whole irrespective of party affiliation and play his constitutional role in ensuring that every Pakistani gets his due share in shelter, health, education and employment: “I pledge to serve all the people of Pakistan, without any discrimination, as I am not the president of any party, but of all the parties and of the people of all the provinces”.
In a post-18th Amendment era, the presidency is a wholly ceremonial office, but Mr. Alvi has pledged to be a more visible and active president serving the best interest of all constituents of the federation. After the lacklustre term of the outgoing president, Mamnoon Hussain, and the intense politicisation of the presidency during Zardari’s term, Mr. Alvi is expected to strike a better balance.
Needless to say, as a symbol of the federation, the president can draw attention to issues that are either less prominent in the national discourse or ignored by the political class. At all times, the president has to remain above the political fray, and a judicious use of the presidential platform can help highlight causes that truly bind the nation.
The presidential poll completes a full round of elections to the provincial assemblies, the National Assembly, the Senate and the presidency during the current year. The PTI is now firmly installed in three provinces and at the centre and for quick results will need to change from campaign mode to effective governance. Prime Minister Imran Khan has sketched an ambitious domestic reforms agenda, but so far few strategies and road maps have been revealed.
Certainly, much will depend on how the government goes about implementing its manifesto promises. A quick rollout of a reform agenda will give the PTI governments at the centre and in the provinces enough time to assess whether the results are satisfactory and make changes before electoral considerations once again come into play a few years down the road.
As for the opposition, the presidential election is yet another indication of the endless confusion and uncertainty in its ranks. The PPP and the PML-N will need to decide relatively soon if they can work together in opposition or if going their separate paths ways better serves their short and long term interests. The opposition has an important parliamentary role, but for the opposition to help strengthen democratic institutions, there needs to be consensus and coordination. Much will depend upon how they perceive their new role in the changed political milieu.