Sri Lanka’s largest Muslim Party the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has slammed the Elections Commission of Sri Lanka for issuing the gazette setting June 20 as the date for parliamentary elections, saying it was “unconstitutional and illegal”.
SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and Party Secretary Nizam Kariapper PC delivered a strongly worded letter to the Elections Commission on Tuesday (21) expressing their deep regret over the date announced for elections.
The letter claimed that the Commission had invited political parties for a meeting on April 21 to discuss the election date, the Commission had gone ahead and gazetted the date of election as June 20 the night before the meeting. It was unconstitutional and illegal for the Commission to declare an election date during the Covid 19 pandemic.
The SLMC letter told the Elections Commission that the declaration of June 20, 2020 for parliamentary elections was a complete violation of Article 70 (3) of the constitution. The gazette by the Commission was unconstitutional and ultra-vires of the said article, the SLMC said.
The Commission had previously delayed the elections indefinitely owing to the prevailing pandemic then, and how on the contrary, they had hastily decided on a date, now, amidst the pandemic, contradicting its own stance.
The party explained that there would be no level playing field now that the country was under curfew and lockdown. Uncertainty prevailed over whether curfew would be completely lifted in some areas like in other areas, and if normalcy would return to some areas under surveillance for COVID-19, the letter said.
“Besides these areas (under surveillance),” the letter alleged, “were earmarked as those that did not vote n favour of the President at the last elections,”
The letter also drew the attention to the WHO’s new guidance issued to governments looking for exit strategies beyond existing lockdown measures dated 16th April 2020
On Tuesday the WHO made a public statement that “the worst was yet to come” with regard to COVID-19, urging countries to exercise caution in lifting restrictions on movement and daily life.
The SLMC letter also complained that in the current context there are already complaints that the government had politicised the handling and distribution of the essential and relief items to the public amid the pandemic.
The SLMC blamed the Commission for failing to question how a National Organiser of a political party has been made the head of a task force to deal with essential services during the pandemic. “These functions place the political party in government at a clear advantage over all others,” the letter noted.
The Commission which was strident in its enforcement of election laws during the period of the presidential election, specifically targeting the government in power at the time, has been silent as activists and opposition parties warn that the Government was politicizing COVID 19 relief distribution despite complaints lodged officially to the Commission by Grama Sevaka officers in writing.
“Being cognizant of these factors, including the prevalent risk to public health, it is patently clear that there cannot be a free and fair election ensured as mandated by the Constitution. Fixing a date of poll in an environment where the poll cannot be free and fair is also unconstitutional,” the letter claimed.
“In these circumstances, the SLMC registers its protest against the Commission’s mal conduct,” it said.
The party urged the Commission to review its decision and act in compliance with the Constitution and the law. They also claimed in the letter that the current context was not conducive to hold free and fair polls.
“We reiterate that the said fixing of the poll to be held on 20th June 2020 is unconstitutional and illegal. As a political party that represents vast number of voters we are saddened by the Commission’s act of not taking into consideration of the obvious current situation and the threat that poses to public health is not only unconscionable but also puts the entire population of our country at serious risk of being affected by the contagion. Therefore, we urge the Commission to review its decision and act in compliance with the Constitution and the law,” the statement said.
SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and the Secretary Nizam Kariapper PC, were joined by the Senior Counsel and SLMC’s Head of International Affairs A M Faaiz and SLMC Deputy Chairman, former Provincial Councillor Naeemullah Masihudeen.(by Chamika Madiwake)