The Elections Commission of Sri Lanka, which last Tuesday (31 March) urged President’s Office to seek the opinion of the Attorney General over the holding of already-postponed General Election; has now urged that the direction of the Supreme Court be immediately sought due to incessant Covid 19 pandemic.
In an urgent communique dated 1st April 2020, the Chairman of the Elections Commission – Mahinda Deshapriya brought to the notice of the Secretary to the President – Dr. P. B . Jayasundara that the Commission observed that General Election was not likely to be held even during the last week of May and that the Parliament was not likely to convene within a lapse of three months from its dissolution on 2nd March 2020.
“When considering the increase of Covid 19 patients and as per expert opinion on epidemiologists, it is evident that that the complete control of this virus within the month of April is untenable”
“As such, it is the decision of this Commission that (His Excellency) the President immediately takes action to obtain a direction of the Supreme Court, in order to resolve the consequential issues.”
In terms of Article 118(d) and 129(1) of the Constitution the President may invoke the Consultative jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, “If at any time it appears to the President of the Republic that a question of law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise which is of such nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer that question to that Court for consideration and the Court may, after such hearing as it thinks fit, within the period specified in such reference or within such time as may be extended by the President, report to the President its opinion thereon.” Usually the time period stipulated is 24 or 72 hours.
In a previous communique dated 31st March 2020, the Chairman Deshapriya stipulated that (as per the Constitution) the new Parliament should convene at least on 1st April 2020 and that the latest dates on which the polls could be held on was either 27th or 28th May. As such basic preparation work should be kick started on at least 20th April.
“Towards that end the impact of Covid 19 pandemic must be negligible and a condition to conduct their tasks without fear of obstruction must arise to officers of the EC and other public servants and in addition to political actors.”
“However considering today (i.e. 30th March) conditions, it is the opinion of many that it is unrealistic to expect such situation to arise by 20th April.”
“As such the EC observes that constitutional issues may arise in the event the situation does not return to complete normalcy, elections are held before the conclusion of May and the new Parliament is unable to convene befeore 2nd June. As such it was desirable to obtain the opinion of the Hon. Attorney General.”
“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by Extraordinary Gazette Notification bearing no 2165/8 dated 2nd March 2020 ordered that Parliament is dissolved, that General Election be held on 25th April 2020 and that the new Parliament should convene on 14th May 2020.”
Deshapriya also said that the Prime Minister, secretaries of political parties of which Members of Parliament were affiliated to and election observer bodies would also be made aware of this.