By Karu Jayasuriya –
As the former Speaker, I have recently been contacted by religious and political leaders, parliamentarians, academics, civil society and trade union representatives and members of the public seeking clarification on the impasse between the Election Commission and Executive on parliamentary elections.
Sri Lanka and the world are faced with an unprecedented health and economic crisis. As the prospect of a constitutional crisis further compounding the plight of our country is a matter of grave national concern, I am setting out my position publicly rather than replying to each query individually.
1. On 2nd March 2020, His Excellency President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament by proclamation, calling for parliamentary elections to be held on 25th April 2020, and for the new Parliament to meet on 14th May 2020.
2. On 21st March 2020, the Election Commission invoked its authority in terms of Section 24 (3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, announcing that the poll for the parliamentary election cannot be taken on 25th April 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka.
3. Article 70 (5) (a) of the Constitution requires that upon the dissolution of Parliament, the new Parliament shall be summoned to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of the proclamation that dissolved Parliament, which must happen by 2nd June 2020.
4. On 31st March 2020, 1st April 2020 and 6th April 2020, letters were exchanged between the Election Commission and the Secretary to the President indicating that:
a) It is the position of the Election Commission that the prevailing situation and logistical constraints prohibit parliamentary elections from being held in time for the new Parliament to be summoned to meet by 2nd June 2020.
b) The government is of the view that there is not necessarily any impediment to holding parliamentary elections on or before 28th May 2020.
Every country in the world is putting political differences aside and uniting to face this threat. Sri Lanka is the only democracy to face COVID-19 crisis without a legislature to pass laws and financial appropriations to combat the pandemic and its economic consequences.
It is my opinion that the government and opposition must engage with the Election Commission and with each other urgently and in good faith. If there are any precautions or new laws that the Commission determines would allow it to safely hold elections in time, these must be explored immediately. In the event holding elections in time is not possible, a constitutional crisis must be avoided at all costs. Such a crisis entails the risk of delegitimising and destabilising our country and could gravely impact Sri Lanka’s prospects of obtaining economic relief.
In the interest of the nation, I appeal to the government, opposition, and other stakeholders to set aside their political differences and to take urgent and meaningful steps to avoid an unnecessary third crisis for our country.