Local News: The Election Commission, says Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, has no power to postpone the General Election without setting an alternate date.
In a statement on the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponed parliamentary election, the Prime Minister claimed that, pursuant to Section 24(3) of Parliamentary Elections Act No: 1 of 1981, the Election Commission is expected to declare an alternative election date when it can not be held on the date set by the President.
He added that the Election Commission would fulfill its responsibilities under Section 24(3) and subsequently take up any pending issues for discussion.
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.
People unable to go out of their homes had to be supplied with essentials like foodstuffs, medicines, and even cash throughout the country. Aid had to be provided to low income earners. The produce of paddy and vegetable farmers and fishermen had to be bought to keep the production process going. The fact that all these tasks were dealt with simultaneously at short notice is nothing less than a managerial miracle. Today, the whole world acknowledges Sri Lanka’s success in containing the coronavirus pandemic.
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. We have achieved this despite an economy that had been driven into the ground, and an unpatriotic and opportunistic opposition bent on undermining our government at every turn.
The opposition leader 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 the as the new parliament has to meet before the 2nd of June, and the parliamentary election cannot be held before that.
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 council 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 council 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.
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.
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. 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 fulfil its duties under Section 24(3) and thereafter take up for discussion any outstanding issues.