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Elections Commission tells Supreme Court it cannot hold polls on June 20

ECONOMYNEXT – The bombshell dropped in the ornate and vast Ceremonial Court of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court today by the National Elections Commission that it cannot conduct the General Elections on June 20 as earlier announced has focused the current hearings on the refusal by the President to recall the recently dissolved Parliament.

A five Judge bench of the Supreme Court is considering 8 Fundamental Rights petitions that challenged the June 20 poll date and the refusal of the President to reconvene the Eighth Parliament.

The Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya is chairing the bench and the other judges are Supreme Court Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith K Malalgoda.

The National Elections Commission is named as a respondent by the petitions.

Counsel for the Commission, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris told the court that it would not be possible for the Elections Commission to hold the poll on June 20th as planned due to logistical issues.

The Counsel said the Commission would require 9-11 weeks after the health authorities give the Greenlight for an election in order to make preparations, explaining that curfew and restrictions on movement were resulting in a serious reduction of manpower and working hours.

The Elections Commission told the Supreme Court that “it was mindful that it was a creature of the constitution and therefore advised the Secretary to the President to request the president to seek an opinion from the Supreme Court on the matter of the delay in elections.”

However the Secretary to the President informed the Elections Commission that the President did not intend to seek the advice of the Supreme Court on the matter.

“Subsequently the June 20th election date was fixed on the assumption that the island-wide curfew would be lifted by April 27th as announced by the Government. Today it is the 20th of May and 23 districts still have night curfew. All-day Curfew is still in place in two districts. Normally officials involved in election preparation work are on duty 16-18 hours, now they can do no more than 10 or 12,” Peiris told the court.

Making submission on behalf of Elections Commission member Ratnajeevan Hoole, Asthika Devendra explained that the Commission had received a media release stating that 17-19 March were special holidays and not public holidays. However, subsequently the Commission received the gazette saying they were public holidays.

As per the Holidays Act, a public holiday is not a working day, Devendra informed the Court. “The Commission had acted on a media communication received, but it now appears that the nominations received on those dates are invalid” Hoole’s lawyer said.

In response President’s Counsel M A Sumanthiran withdrew one of his petitions, filed by Charitha Guneratne as his only prayer was the change of the date of the election.

All the other petitioners are also challenging the President’s refusal to rescind his order dissolving Parliament.

Counsel have argued that according to the dissolution order a new Parliament has to convene on or before June 2 according to the Constitution that stipulates that the House can stay dissolved for only three months.

Sumanthiran and others have told court that without Parliament there cannot be a democracy. (Colombo, May 20, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana