Court Informed that Elections Cannot Be Held on June 20
With the only petition challenging the date the parliamentary poll was scheduled to be held being withdrawn following the Election Commission’s Counsel informing Court that the election cannot be held as fixed on June 20 this year, the focus now is solely on the refusal of the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa to reconvene parliament.
Eight Fundamental Rights petitions were before the Court, one challenging the date of the poll and the others also contending that the President was acting in contravention of the Constitution by refusing to reconvene the 8th parliament.
Since Monday, May 18th, a five Judge Bench has been hearing submissions to determine whether petitions are to be granted leave to proceed. The Bench chaired by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya comprises of Supreme Court Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Vijith K Malalgoda Sisira de Abrew and Priyantha Jayawardena.
The National Election Commission is named as one of the respondents, and Presidents Counsel Saliya Peiris appearing for the Commission on Wednesday, May 20, informed the Court that the Commission would need between 9 to 11 weeks after Health Authorities who are currently battling the spread of COVID-19 in the country, give the greenlight, to make preparations for the poll.
The Election Commission informed the Court that it had made a request to the Secretary to the President, to seek an opinion from the Supreme Court on the matter of delaying the election.
With the Secretary to the President informing the Commission that the President had no intention of seeking the advice of the Court, the Commission had fixed June 20th for the poll.
The Commission, the Court was told by Saliya Peiris Counsel for the Commission, was going on the basis that the island-wide curfew imposed at that time, would be lifted on April 27th as stated by the government.
However, two districts are still under full curfew, while a night time curfew is in force in 23 districts, thus hampering the work of election officials to prepare for the poll. Peiris stated that usually election officials work 16-18 hours a day to prepare for the poll, but are now limited to working 10 to 12 hours.
Meanwhile, Asthika Devendra Counsel for Ratnajeevan Hoole, one of the members of the Election Commission, told Court that his client had opposed the holding of elections on June 20th, as nominations had been called on a public holiday. While the Commission had received a media release stating that March 17 to 19 were special holidays, it had subsequently received the Gazette which listed those dates as Public Holidays. Hoole’s lawyer stated that according to the Holidays Act, a Public Holiday is not a working day, and therefore, nominations received on those dates are invalid.
Presidents Counsel M A Sumanthiran, appearing on behalf of Charith Gunaratne, withdrew that petition, as the petitioner was only seeking a change in the date of the election. Counsel Sumanthiran is also appearing for journalist Victor Ivan, who like all the other petitioners is also challenging the President’s refusal to rescind the order dissolving parliament. They argue that the Parliament cannot remain dissolved beyond the three month date which is June 2nd.
Amongst the other petitioners are the Centre for Policy Alternatives and its Executive Director, P Saravanamuttu, General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Ranjit Madduma Bandara, the Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Rauf Hakeem and two private citizens.
Presidents Counsel Wijayadasa Rajapaksa is appearing on behalf of the Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Sagara Kariyawasam, and Presidents Counsel Romesh de Silva, on behalf of the Secretary to the President, P B Jayasundera.
Hearings will continue today, May 21.