Colombo, April 18 (newsin.asia): The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued a statement on Saturday, asking the Election Commission (EC) to fix a fresh date for the postponed parliamentary elections as mandated by Section 24(3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act No: 1 of 1981.
The Prime Minister pointed out that when the Election Commission postponed the polls (which were to be held on April 25), citing the COVID-19 threat, it did not announce another date as it should have under the law cited above.
The Prime Minister said in the statement that the threat from COVID-19 has been contained and only a few districts are now considered “high risk” thereby indicating that it is possible to hold the elections early.
But the government, the President or the Prime Minister cannot fix a fresh date for the elections. Only the Election Commission can do that. Hence the request to the Election Commission to fix a new date.
The Prime Minister has clearly rejected the opposition’s demand that the Presidential gazette of March 2 dissolving parliament and calling for elections to be held on April 25, be cancelled. It is clear that the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa desires that the parliamentary elections be held at the end of May to enable the newly elected parliament to meet before June 2 as constitutionally mandated.
Sequence of Events
Recalling the events which preceded the current impasse, the Prime Minister said: “The On 2 March the President dissolved Parliament and fixed 25 April for the poll and 14 May for the first meeting of the new Parliament. Ten days later, when the first Coronavirus patient was found, the President did not have the power to postpone the poll. Under Section 24(3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act No: 1 of 1981, when the poll cannot be held on the day fixed by the President, the Elections Commission is mandatorily required to fix another day for the poll. They have no power to postpone the poll without fixing another date.”
He further said: “Such mandatory legal requirements cannot be ignored on the basis of speculation as to what may or may not happen weeks and months into the future. The Elections Commission should first fulfill its duties under Section 24(3) and thereafter take up for discussion any outstanding issues.”
Blaming the opposition for the moves to get the elections postponed if not called off altogether, the Prime Minister said: “ The opposition leader (Sajith Premadasa) tried to sabotage the anti-coronavirus campaign at the very outset by personally encouraging protests against the quarantine process. Then they tried to undermine government services including the health service with the argument that the President had no power to allocate funds for government services after the dissolution of Parliament. Now they say that the Gazette dissolving Parliament should be rescinded as the new parliament has to meet before the 2nd of June, and the parliamentary election cannot be held before that.”
The Prime Minister maintained that the coronavirus pandemic has been contained in Sri Lanka through the humongous efforts of the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, thus indicating that the parliamentary polls can be held soon.
“Things have to come back to normal sooner or later. In eleven of the 25 administrative districts, there have been no coronavirus patients at all. In another seven districts, there have been only one or two patients, and five to seven patients in two more districts. Only five districts have a high incidence of coronavirus patients,” he pointed out.
But the task of fighting the virus with a weak inherited economy was hard, Mahinda said.
“The Coronavirus pandemic hit countries like the USA, India and Bangladesh in a situation where their economies had been experiencing strong growth for years. In contrast, Sri Lanka has had to face this crisis in a state of economic ruin. During the five years of yahapalana misrule from 2015 to 2019, our debt burden increased by 71%, the Rupee lost one third of its value and economic growth had plummeted to 2.7%. Furthermore, though we had won the Presidency in November 2019 and formed a government, we did not have a majority in Parliament and were not able to get a vote on account passed even to pay off the previous government’s debts to suppliers of fertilizer and medicine.”
“The financial powers vested in the President under Article 150(3) of the Constitution is the only saving grace in this situation. It was with all these debilitating disadvantages that we had to face the Coronavirus pandemic.”
“After the first Coronavirus patient was discovered on 11 March, we introduced a raft of measures to control the disease including early detection, isolation and treatment of patients, quarantine for those exposed to risk, the tracing of patients’ contacts and social distancing measures. An operation like this has not been seen in our lifetimes. Curfews lasting for weeks on end had to be imposed to prevent the spread of the disease.”
“The President’s leadership in this regard has to be commended. Our government doctors, nurses, and health service workers have come to the attention of the entire world. The skill and dedication of the intelligence services in tracing the contacts of patients, the efficiency of the armed forces in implementing quarantine and lockdown measures has prevented the spread of the disease. The Police, and government officials at all levels have all contributed to the success of the anti-Coronavirus campaign. Today, our country is one of the safest places to be in the whole world.”
Habit of Postponing Elections
The opposition appears to have a penchant for postponing elections, Mahinda said.
“The Yahapalana government delayed local government elections by nearly three years. Their attempt to postpone that election indefinitely by moving courts failed only because the Elections Commission declared they would hold elections to the institutions that were not involved in litigation. With just days to go for the dissolution of the provincial councils in 2017, the yahapalana government changed the provincial councils elections system to prevent elections from taking place. When the Attorney General held that a two thirds majority in Parliament was required to pass that amendment, they bartered policy for votes in the corridors of Parliament to obtain the required majority.”
“As a result of that unprincipled political horse trading, the local government elections law which was passed on 25 August 2017 has 40% proportional representation whereas the Provincial Councils elections law passed four weeks later has 50% proportional representation! “
“Sri Lanka is also the only democratic country in the world where political parties petitioned the Supreme Court to get the declaration of a parliamentary election annulled. The present scramble to have the parliamentary elections put off is a continuation of that deplorable past.”