Coronavirus | Opposition urges Sri Lankan govt. to reconvene Parliament

‘President can’t approve funds to fight COVID-19 after April 30’

March 30, 2020 11:31 pm | Updated 11:34 pm IST - Colombo

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission postponed the polls indefinitely.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission postponed the polls indefinitely.

Nearly a month after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament and called for elections, the Opposition’s calls for reconvening the legislature have grown louder in Sri Lanka.

A day after the Parliament completed 4.5 years of its term — constitutionally mandated for dissolution — President Rajapaksa dissolved the 225-member legislature and called snap general elections for April 25. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also affected the island nation, the Election Commission postponed the polls indefinitely.

Health authorities on Monday confirmed the country’s second COVID-19 death, of its 122 confirmed cases. Fourteen persons have recovered, according to the Health Promotion Bureau. Sri Lanka has been on curfew for over a week, as authorities try to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

However, several former MPs from Sri Lanka’s political opposition have urged the government to reconvene Parliament.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has noted that the President cannot approve any expenses towards COVID-19 after April 30. “Funds have been allocated for the government through the Vote on Account until the 30th of April. From that day onwards until the new Parliament is convened again, the President does not have powers to approve additional expenses. We cannot predict as to when the new Parliament would be convened. This is a crisis,” he said in a recent statement.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem had made the point at the all-party leaders’ meeting convened by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 24. “I had to point out the need to re-summon Parliament to show the nation that we are united in this hour of national emergency,” Mr. Hakeem said.

Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera pointed to Section 70 (7) of the Constitution, which empowers the President to convene Parliament in an emergency and said it existed “precisely for such an eventuality.”

“In challenging times, it is also constitutionally proper to have the people’s representatives meet to steer the country through these perilous waters,” he said in a recent statement.

Tamil National Alliance spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran on Sunday tweeted: Calling President @GotabayaR to invoke Art70(7) and re-convene Parliament to deal with the emergency. We can follow Maldives,” he said, referring to Male’s initiative to convene parliament online.

However, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the necessity to reconvene Parliament “hasn’t arisen yet.” “Whether there is parliament or not, everything is moving…things can’t be smoother,” he told The Hindu , adding that the government was using “provisions available in the Constitution”.

“Democracy is very important, no question, but in a situation like this the executive is better positioned to take and implement swift decisions. Parliamentary debates and discussions tend to be time-consuming,” Mr. Rambukwella said.

The use of executive powers, however, concerns some. Observing that people were in “no mood to think of elections during this unprecedented turmoil” Mr. Hakeem said in a statement: “But, in this milieu, are we to sanction unconstitutional executive convenience to gradually move towards authoritarianism?”

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