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Sri Lanka’s poll date challenged at Supreme Court

PM Mahinda rajappaksa receiving a letter from TNA Leader R. Sampanthan at his residence in Colombo.

PM Mahinda rajappaksa receiving a letter from TNA Leader R. Sampanthan at his residence in Colombo.  

Pleas contest EC’s decision to hold election on June 20 & stresses on the need to reconvene Parliament

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary poll date of June 20 has been challenged at the Supreme Court, with four recently-filed petitions questioning its timing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In separate petitions, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Front), the opposition party led by former Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa, senior journalist Victor Ivan, the Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Attorney-at-Law Charitha Gunarathne have contested the Election Commission’s decision to hold polls on June 20 — it has said the date is subject to review — arguing that the environment was not conducive to hold a free and fair election.

Govt., Opposition clash over holding poll

Further, they emphasise the need to reconvene Parliament in the face of a national crisis, citing the potential need for new legislation and legislative oversight of the executive.

On March 2, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the eight Parliament, and called for snap elections on April 25. However, as coronavirus (COVID-19) spread in the region and entered Sri Lanka, the Election Commission postponed the polls, later announcing June 20 as the new date.

Sri Lanka makes cremations compulsory for virus deaths, angering Muslims

However, all major Opposition parties strongly objected to the new date while Sri Lanka has been battling the pandemic – 771 cases, 215 recoveries and 9 deaths reported as of Wednesday afternoon — since March 10, when the first local resident tested positive.

Constitutional crisis

Instead, the parties urged President Rajapaksa to reconvene Parliament using his discretionary powers and promised to offer responsible cooperation and to forego salaries. That way, an imminent constitutional crisis could be averted, they argued, as Sri Lanka’s Constitution mandates that the Parliament be summoned not later than three months after the proclamation dissolving the House [March 2]. But President Rajapaksa has ruled out reconvening Parliament.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday invited all legislators of the last Parliament for a discussion at Temple Trees, his official residence. All opposition parties except the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), that represents Tamils of the island’s north and east, boycotted the meeting on grounds that when the option of reconvening the legislature was available, they did not wish to participate in an extra-parliamentary meeting.

In a letter handed over to the Prime Minister, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan pointed out that the Parliament elected in 2015 unanimously resolved to convert itself into a Constitutional Assembly to evolve a new Constitution that would look into Executive Presidency, electoral reforms and the Tamil national question. Mr. Sampanthan said he decided to attend the meeting to convey that members of the Alliance were prepared to extend their cooperation to the resolution of the issues “in a reasonable and acceptable manner”.

“However, we wish to emphasise that the meeting summoned by you is not and cannot be a substitute for convening the Parliament. We are of the firm view that the Parliament must be convened...to deal with several constitutional and legal issues that have arisen, which Parliament alone can deal with,” he further said in the letter.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 10:31:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lankas-poll-date-challenged-at-supreme-court/article31520744.ece

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