The Supreme Court will hear several petitions challenging the presidential proclamation dissolving Parliament on the 18 and 19 of May 2020. The matter was taken up today in the Supreme Court.
Most of the petitions seek interim orders to quash the gazette issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 2nd March dissolving Parliament on the basis that the new Parliament cannot meet within the three month deadline mandated by the constitution since elections have been delayed till June 20 on account of the corona virus pandemic.
The Elections Commission earlier postponed the April 25 parliamentary election to 20th June, but the Commission will meet again this week to determine if the new date was feasible on account of the country still being partially shut down due to COVID-19.
When the petitions were taken up in Court on Monday (11), the Attorney General informed the judges that the Department would not be appearing for the three members of the Elections Commission who had been cited as respondents in the petitions.
Petitions challenging the presidential proclamation argue that any attempt to exercise the powers of Government without parliamentary oversight for an indefinite period of time would amount to a violation of the constitution and constitutional principles of separation of powers and the need to have in place all three organs of the Government – namely, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
Petitions have been filed by former Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan, the Centre for Policy Alternatives Executive Director Paikasothy Saravanamuttu, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Kumara Welgama and Champika Ranawaka and others.
The fundamental rights applications have been filed under Article 126 of the constitution which allows any citizen to challenge the actions or omissions of the President by bringing a lawsuit citing the Attorney General as a respondent qua president.
Prior to the 19th Amendment to the constitution, the incumbent executive president enjoyed absolute immunity from suit in the conduct of his official duties. The Article 126 provision allowed all opposition parties to file action against President Maithripala Sirisena after he illegally dissolved Parliament in November 2018 following an attempted coup. In a stunning, unanimous determination, seven judges of the country’s top court ruled that the President had violated the constitution. The judgment also clarified that with the exception of the president’s power to declare war and peace and his ceremonial duties, all his other powers could be challenged by way of FR in the Supreme Court.
In its rush to re-open the country to force the Elections Commission’s hand on holding Parliamentary elections in order to ensure the President is not forced to reconvene the old parliament, the Government has continued to confuse the public with its curfew regulations. Normal passengers are not permitted on public transport, however public offices are being opened to serve a public that cannot reach them in light of curfew still prevalent in several districts. The Colombo Stock Exchange was shut down for the day on Monday (11th May) after the market lost 10% of its value in the first 38 seconds of trading. The forced normalcy is an attempt to force the hand of the Elections Commission to plough ahead with poll preparations amid the corona virus crisis. Making matters worse Sri Lanka’s largest COVID-19 cluster is now the Sri Lanka Navy where more than 400 sailors have tested positive for the virus raising serious questions about the suitability of the military to lead a Government response to a public health crisis.
On Monday, “inspired leaks” about an army medical officer being tipped for appointment as Secretary to the Ministry of Health also sent shockwaves as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appeared to be doubling down on the narrative that only his military could handle the crisis, despite the serious indictment on this Government policy after the massive cluster of Navy infections came to light. The appointment comes in the wake of public health inspectors complaining in writing that the Navy was hiding information about COVID-19 positive naval personnel in quarantine at navy bases around the island.