20 September, 2020

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The Government Is Playing A Dangerous Game

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

Our country is facing a severe challenge today with Covid-19 virus. Health care workers, Armed Forces and the Police are doing a great job in this grave hour, of cause with the direction of the government. The intention of this article is to identify if there are any political motives behind the operation to combat Covid-19.

The President dissolved the parliament on 2 March and the general election was scheduled on 25 April amidst the spread of Covid-19 virus internationally. The new parliament was scheduled to meet on 14 May. At the SAARC leaders meeting held on 15 March, the president declared that the election will be held at the scheduled date. Several ministers also supported the idea that the elections will be held as usual. Accepting of nominations started on 12 March and concluded on 19 March. Soon after the conclusion of accepting the nominations, the Chairman of the National Election Commission (NEC) declared that the elections will be postponed indefinitely. A Gazette notification to this effect was issued by NEC on 21 March.

The Chairman of the NEC has written to the Secretary of the President on 1 April stating that according to the constitution the parliament should be summoned latest by 2 June and in order to meet that requirement the elections should be held by 27 or 28 May and the preparation for the poll should be commenced by 20 April at least. The Chairman requested the Secretary to bring this situation to the attention of the President saying it would be most suitable for him to promptly seek guidance form the Supreme Court in this regard.

Article 70 (5) (a) is as follows. “A Proclamation dissolving Parliament shall fix a date or dates for the election of Members of Parliament and shall summon the new Parliament to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of such Proclamation.”

Secretary to the President responded to this letter on 6 April and stated as follows.

“As per the advice by His Excellency, it is not possible at this point of time to state that the election cannot be held on or before 28.05.2020. The date for fixing the poll is the responsibility of the Election Commission and His Excellency has no wish to interfere with duties and obligations of the Election Commission.”

“I need hardly emphases that it is the right of the people of this country to exercise their franchise, which their sovereign right.”

“In the total circumstances set out hereinbefore, I am instructed to inform the Election Commission that the question of Reference to the Supreme Court in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution does not arise.”

The Secretary says that the election can be held on or before 28 May. 

It should be noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the outbreak was a public health emergency on 20 January and that it can be characterized as a pandemic on 11 March, prior to the meeting of the leaders of SAARC. WHO Director General said. “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.” Covid-19 is a dangerous virus which has taken 114,000 lives world-wide so far with 1.85 Mn active cases. 

The President delayed taking action against the virus until the nominations were concluded. Island wide curfew was declared on the following day 20 March. From that day onwards curfew was extended throughout the country with lifting the same for short durations. Now Western Province and Jaffna district have indefinite curfew and other in other districts it gets lifted for 10 hours after few days allowing people to buy essential goods. 

The President appointed the Army Commander as the Head of the National Operation Centre for the prevention of the spread of Covid-19 on 17 March. This appointment was not gazetted and the terms of reference was not published. The identities of the other members of this operation centre are not known. Based on its website it appears to be that the task of the centre is to management of the quarantine process. A Presidential Task Force was appointed on 26 March and it was gazetted (No. 2168/8), members were nominated, and terms of reference was identified. The focus of the Task Force was management of food supply and various administration work. It has nothing to do with the management of the virus- related issues. It was heard that there is a technical task force, but its members are not known.

In its operations the Task Force has decided to close  the economic centres, which affected the farmers and hampered the delivery of vegetables throughout the island. The economy is at stand still. Daily wage earners are in dire consequences. The operation is like that of a war of which the sole target is to eradicate the virus as early as possible. These are good intentions but there are side effects as well. Many countries in the world are very conscious of their economies as well. They try to manage carefully the pandemic and the economy. 

It appears to be that the Epidemiologists who are trained to handle epidemics are not in the forefront and they are not in control. The best example is that on 11 April it was reported that  it was made mandatory to use face masks  when people are  going out but in the website of the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health it is clearly states that it is not necessary.

Having delayed the starting of the process of combating the virus until the nominations were concluded, the President, after issuing the letter to the Chairman stating that the elections can be held by 28 May, now started giving signals that the situation will be eased  by that time. On April 11 it was decided that the second school term will be started on 11 May. On April 12 it was decided that the Universities will be re-open for staff on 4 May, for final year students on 11 May and for all students on 18 May. What is the basis of fixing these dates? What is the contribution of Epidemiologists on deciding of the dates? It appears to be that these days are fixed to be in line with the possible election date indicated to the Chairman of the NEC, 28 May.

This is a dangerous game indeed. Every day there are new patients reported. By the time of this article is written total number of patients has gone up to 210. The World Health Organization has clearly said that the relaxation of the measures taken to combat the virus should be slowed down by stages and they warn that ad hoc relaxations would lead to another pandemic. It would be too early to set the deadlines now. However, it would be great if the deadlines can be achieved.

An election cannot be held under these circumstances and in this type of rush. 

The argument of the Secretary that the people should be allowed to use their franchise, was brought in during the time when the former President dissolved the parliament illegally in October 2018 as well. Supreme Court held that adhering to the constitution was the best way to maintain the sovereignty. Many writers illustrated provisions of the constitution to re-convene the parliament in this grave hour and the dire necessity of doing so. If the parliament is convened the problem raised by the Chairman of the NEC may be solved based on the legal provisions. In addition to that several other problems such as overseeing the process of combatting the virus and approving necessary finances to run the country and to combat the virus, can be solved.

On 20 February, at the last date of the parliament sessions Leader of the House wanted to bring a motion to get the approval of government expenditure and to raise the borrowing limit. According to the Leader of the Opposition, at the Party Leaders meeting opposition supported to approve the expenditure and opposed to raise the borrowing limit. It was recorded in Hansard. However, the Leader of the House withdrew the whole motion and he proposed that the next session of the parliament would be 3 March. On 2 March the parliament was dissolved. The President in his address to the nation mentioned that the government was not able to get the expenses approved in the parliament and hence he has dissolved it.

 In the last paragraph of the response the Secretary stated that the referring the matter to the Supreme Court does not arise. 

The Chairman of the NEC has written to the President, I believe, under Article 33 (1) (d) which is as follows.

“It shall be the duty of the President to, on the advice of the Election Commission, ensure the creation of proper conditions for the conduct of free and fair elections and referenda.”

Therefore, we are back to square one.

As discussed, I believe that the entire operation handling Covid-19 is interwoven with the holding of the election. It is the duty of the President and the government to find a way out to this constitutional deadlock rather than trying to hold the elections amid Covid-19 crisis.  

It is the duty of the opposition political leaders to give an assurance to the government that they will support to pass the necessary laws and approvals needed in this grave hour if the parliament is summoned and to support to solve the constitutional deadlock.

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Latest comments

  • 14
    0

    Harsha

    If we are to have elections in the month of May, then we have to open up the economy including opening schools, universities, factories and offices by early May. For you to do that, mass scale testing is required to give the general public the confidence that the environment is safe for you to commence normal day to day activities.

    There is always a possibility that a second wave of the infection is possible and should keep in mind that we have only 600 ICU beds. We lost Rs 150 billion in 6 years trying to keep Sri Lankan flying when such funds could have been spent to build 10-15 top grade hospitals in the country and increase the ICU beds !! Year 2019 Sri Lankan loss was a massive 40 Rs billion.

    It is such a delicate balance for any government to decide between safeguarding the people and not damaging the economy beyond repair through continuous curfews and lock downs. The virus can never be eradicated with out a vaccine and that will take atleast one more year. Social distancing and other preventive measures should be taken over the next few months.

    Testing is key and nothing but testing and testing and testing !!

    • 13
      0

      The issue here is that these people either don’t care for or don’t want advice of this nature. So much of the nation’s PCR machines are sitting idle as the state lacks the materials for the tests and PPE for lab personnel. So many qualified biologists are also sitting at home- I being one. Meanwhile, these people want to open the country up for an election. On top of that, the willy-nilly issue of curfew passes and Basil’s much publicised but totally non-present distribution system means that shops are now selling things out the back door, both of which contribute to further spread of the virus and encourages people to flout the whole purpose of the lockdown.

      The word moronic doesn’t even begin to describe the current situation. The GMOA were very vocal under the last government, but when it comes to actually doing their jobs and standing up for their profession at a time when they should be leading, these bought out sons of mothers don’t seem to want to do anything. Yet more evidence that an MBBS is overrated in this country.

      • 0
        3

        This argument of Personal protective needs specially important stuff is just manipulation, exploitation ans scare mongering etc., etc., Every thing can be made in Sri lanka. Lab eye ware or goggles, lab coats, masks, hair nests and shoes.

    • 9
      0

      Ajith,
      Here is the problem: This Gvt is run by a bunch of people who act like street medicine vendors. They are clever at advertising but the stuff they sell has no value! Look at the tax-cut scheme right off the bat hoping to achieve twin goals of exciting the economy and lowering the food prices. Instead, as warned by many learned people, the result was exactly the opposite; and also sent shiver among foreign investors who began to pull their $ s forcing the value of Rs to decline sharply.

      Same happened with dealing with Wuhan virus (covid – 19); Gvt spent Rs 20 millions to invite infected foreigners in order to keep the tourism alive and thereby forcing the shutting down of whole country instead! Now, they are juggling with the election which the Gvt is hoping to win at any cost to the nation. Naturally, therefore, it will be very difficult for this bunch in the Gvt to do the right thing: continue the parliament until August in order to take necessary steps mange both health & financial crisis and enforce social distancing until the health risk is under control.

      However, the health risk from the virus will eventually force them to do what they are unwilling to do now. Only an invention of a vaccine to kill the virus will stop the danger b’cos viruses never go away on its own; the more it takes time, the more it becomes dangerous by mutating. I have no doubt that MaRa/GoRa tandem is trying hard to convince Dr Anil Jayasinghe and MaCo otherwise but, I doubt whether it would work! Unlike Maco, Dr Anil J is not independent enough to contradict the will of the political leadership. Instead, it appears that he is letting the numbers speak for itself while pretending the loyalty!

  • 5
    11

    Harsha Gunasena

    Don’t attempt to make the election or the previous parliament important in the current impasse.

    It’s well known that the previous parliament didn’t reflect actual representation of the masses as the 2015 election was held in deceptive way.

    So the president made a right decision to dissolve it early but the current situation doesn’t provide to hold an election so people want the president to administrate the country with forces, Police & essential services until the country comes to normalcy.

  • 10
    1

    Political tyranny under the guise of Covid Control.

    Look around there is a garrison state, tyrannical behaviour either by design or default and I think it is by design where the socialist and democratic nation is leading to complete authoritarianism. This is a dangerous decease that is spreading very very fast and even faster than the Covid -19 at present. The forces that should speak out and mobilize masses against engulfing nation with the apparent birth of an authoritarian state predominantly centred round one family are silent and /or made silent right now. The choice is clear, if you want a liberal and democratic civilian administration, rise up now before it is too late.

  • 17
    0

    Attempts at representative democracy have failed in SL. Most voters seem to like a monarch or strong-man for Prez. Therefore they get either a lunatic or a psychopath or a tyrant each time, and they act at will. Elections are mere hogwash to justify and legitimise the raping of the country’s finances by a coterie of parasites. All the people in high positions know this reality but choose to ignore it.

    • 3
      0

      Lasantha Pethiyagoda,

      The measured mean IQ of the imbeciles is 79.

      https://photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

      The intelligence scores came from work carried out earlier this decade by Richard Lynn, a British psychologist, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish political scientist, who analysed IQ studies from 113 countries, and from subsequent work by Jelte Wicherts, a Dutch psychologist.

      Countries are ranked highest to lowest national IQ score.

    • 1
      0

      Dear L.P.
      I have always held that voting in the Parliament must be confidential.
      But then I must be wrong for I don’t see it anywhere, Westminster model or otherwise. I am struggling to understand why I am wrong.
      For me parliamentary debates are EXACTLY similar to school debates where you speak justifying the ‘assigned’ side of a topic- children demonstrate their ability to argue. Why do we go through this silly motion at the supreme legislature?’ Isn’t it sufficient for the party or the coalition leaders to vote?
      Remember how JR kept ‘resignation’ letters in his pocket?
      How many would have consented for MR’s 18th amendment if voting was secret?
      What is the logic behind when GR says give me 2/3?
      In the end, while everyone one of us are absolutely free to express our opinion, there is one set of people in this democracy who are NOT free – our representatives!
      Please help me to understand this conundrum.

      Soma

  • 6
    0

    When voters elect introvert mind-set presidents into power they have to live them. The best living example is the U.S. President Donald Trump. Therefor, holding or postponing a General – Election would not solve the problem. This is what happening in Sri lanka since J.R.Jeyawardene.

  • 2
    3

    Harsha is just the messenger. What every one of NGOs say. In the mean time while the fight against Covid-19 is continued, RECALL the parliament, bring up the laws to increase the debt limit. At that time, IMF may give a loan. Then go to elections. Who knows some says, at that time, there may be a second spread of Xovid too because of people not listening and are hiding.
    Anyway, Sri lanka is close to becoming once Zimbabwe was.

  • 3
    6

    How did South Korea manage to hold the election last week? I’m sure SL too can do it if it continues to carefully manage the crisis. A country can not go on indefinitely without a Parliament but the old Diyawanna lot is a NO, NO. People yarn for a chance to elect a new lot even if they know that the new lot won’t be the best. At this complex and complicated hour, they will definitely have a tough job to perform, as voters!
    Look at the ex-Yahapalana deputy minister Ranjan Ramanayake has done today (and he is in police custody again). Do you want such thugs who don’t understand the difference between law enacting and law enforcement, to formulate the law of the land?

    • 2
      0

      Mr.Lasantha Pethiyagoda, why people decided to elect a monarch like Prez is that they were fed up with the inept Ranil W – Maithri government which made governance a daily scandal. The parsitic coterie you mentioned will be there always. Remember the words of Sir John Kotelawela when it was pointed out that his supporters were seen at Rosmead Place after the UNP defeat, Sir John replied, ” the lickers are the same, only the bums are different.” In this scenario we may have to suffer under the present system until there comes a full circle and the hoi polloi that elected the dictator get fed up like what happened in 2015. And the tragedy is that again the choice will be limited to mediocre politicians like Sajith, Ravi K et al.

      • 0
        0

        Uncommon Man,

        Why people were forced to elect a CRIMINAL:

        Was solely based on the misleading information flew to the vulnerable, gawky masses.
        -#
        Else who on earth would ever trust criminals that have
        – deliberatly mastered killings from north to south and then across the country if I may awaken your losing memory ?
        – how many went and left the country being unable to live under the DUO criminal rule by 2015 – one most known PERSON – sunday leader editor – successor to murdered LAsantha W

        how women and children were abducted, killed and left missing during RAJAPKASHE brutal regime ?

        How unarmed prisoners were gunned down like the mad dogs under the command of BP – Gotas command ?

        How they shot at protesters, young boys that went on marches asking pure water to drink remember ?

        How they murdered those 11 boys from colombo vicinities calling them as LTTERs but those young boys were just ready to leave SL for UK or other destinations where they thought they would be studying in the future. ALL of them were abudcted and gunned down, none of them mothers are yet clear these young chaps are still alive .. can you imagine ?

        Over 49 journalists went missing, you dont know yet what happened to them –
        That Ekanaligoda, Thadjudeen and untold stories of others.. get the facts from former minister Silva who is not anti-rajapakshe and also Sajin vaas .. can help you guys.

        All in all, these bugger DUO should rather be HUNG to the manner Sadam housein was then executed for all the high crimes, but two TV channels, brought them back, misleading and fooling the very same cow dung eating 69 lacks of voters.

        No good riddance to the nation !

  • 0
    1

    Wonder whether our Corona stricken Inhabitants who are living under the Curfew will vote for the UNP Opp Leader Keslwatta and his gang, to protect them from the Corona Virus and lift the Curfew?.

    If they do what positions will Dr Rani, Mangala Samare, Dr Rajitha, Champaka Ranawaka , Rauf Hakeem , Bathudeen , Ranjan Ramakanayaka ,Hirunicka Premachandra , Genral Ponseka ,JVP Anura and the other Yahapalana Deshapremis will get from the UNP Opp Leader from Keselwatta?.

    Will they be in the Cabinet ?.

    Will the Opp Leader from Keselwatta pick Ravi Karunanayaka as the Finance Minister?.

    Will Dr Rani call his mate from Singapore to rescue our Economy from the impending Depression after spending both Easter and Sinhala and Tamil New Year under the Curfew .
    And most probably even sitting out the Holy Vesak at home eating Dhall and Mackeral…..

    Pity this all powerful Election Commissioner is sitting on those Nominations without telling our inhabitants.

    If he is kind enough to divulge the names, it will help our learned Inhabitants to relieve their mental stress of living in Isolation, by working out those Cabinet combinations to give us another dose of Yahapalanaya..

  • 0
    0

    Right now there is no constitutional deadlock. It occurs if elections cannot be held by May 28. This is an evolving situation. More clarity will emerge during the next couple of weeks. President may seek SC advise. If opposition provides confidence that they would work with the govt (as seen by actions of responsible opposition political parties in many countries), president under advise from SC may re-convene the parliament.

    • 3
      0

      Are you serious.. mate to even suggest those semi retired Crooks and thugs , sorry the Law Makers to be called back ?.

      The ex UNP Minister and Law Maker in Kotte was swearing at the Police and threatening them like the Black Rambo saying” I will Be Back” intermingled with some Juicy Kunuharupa as well , when the Cops were checking his mate’s Curfew Permit, which he didn’t have .

      The Police eventually put both in the Paddy Wagon to be produced before the Magistrate.

      Unfortunately the Magistrate can’t take calls from him .
      Or even through his Girl Friends like Hirunicka from Paliyagaoda.

      These are the Scum Bags who ruined the country for nearly 5 years .
      Do you want them back to protect our inhabitants from Corona Virus?..

  • 0
    0

    S Korea just had their elections with a COVID situation worse than SL. US is continuing with it’s electoral cycle with the world’s worst COVID spread. At this point SL is in a much better position to convene a new parliament by May 28th while keeping COVID under wraps.

  • 1
    0

    There is no government at present. It is Mahinda Family rule.

  • 0
    0

    Harsha, the crisis is not yet over and the final count is anyone,s guess. But the politicians have started making their moves. Trump is adamant to open business and challenging his own governors advise so that he can take a victory lap for the sake of his re election. Finally when the crisis is under control most politicians including Trump will claim credit stating if not for their timely actions the casualty would been many folds.That is like saying instead of hundred thousand ONLY ten thousand perished. Trump was adamant not to heed to the early warnings. Many others around the world took their own sweet time addressing the crisis until Panic hit, is when they decided to take extraordinary wartime measures. Then there are few dictators decided to deny all together. People in respective countries should decide the fate of these inept politicians. But unfortunately most will join the bandwagon and go with their political narrations.

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