Supreme Court hears crucial submissions over elections tomorrow

Will a Provincial Election be held in the maelstrom of a Presidential election?

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court will hear oral and written submissions tomorrow 23 Aug, as to whether the Provincial Council elections can be held under the former system or needs to be held under new laws.

The hearing has been caused by President Maithripala Sirisena asking the Apex Court to rule on the issue as most of the elections to the councils are long overdue.

Lawyers have been invited by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya to make written or oral submissions about the matter starting 10 am tomorrow.

Letter sent to the Bar Association by the Chief Justice inviting submissions over the President’s questions

Some lawyers, including TNA MP M A Sumanthiran have asked to make interventions.

If a Provincial election is ordered it will take place parallel to the current Presidential campaign.

The move by President Sirisena has been denounced by Opposition groups as an attempt to muddy the waters during the Presidential campaign.

The nominal leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Prof G L Peiris told reporters a few days ago that the PC polls is the government’s “last trump to delay the Presidential election.”

But Sirisena’s supporters do not think the PC polls will affect the Presidential hustings.

The United People’s Freedom Alliance General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera told reporters today 22 Aug that they did not see any problems with the President’s idea to hold the elections at the same time.

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“We have said that we have no issue with the two elections being held side-by-side as long as there is no hindrance to the Presidential elections,” he said.

Chief Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya told reporters that he had no issue either. “We are prepared to hold both polls” he said at a press briefing on 13 Aug.

The issue before the SC is complicated.

Initially, Parliament wanted to change the method of elections to one that moves away from the proportional preferential system that past elections were conducted as it created competition between candidates of the same political party.

There was also the desire of Parliament to move towards a system where members would be responsible for Wards or electorates and also establish a women’s quota for contestants.

These ideas were incorporated into the new elections law passed in 2017 under which the 2018 Local Government elections were conducted. The poll turned out to be very complicated and unwieldy and it took months for LG Members to be appointed.

For the Provincial Councils the delimitation – or the drawing of boundaries for the electorates – has been also contentious and finally, the review of the delimitation report was not received.

In his letter to the Chief Justice, Sirisena has asked whether he could publish the names, boundaries and number of electorates because the review committee report has not been received. He also asks whether by doing so he can hold the election, and if not whether the poll can be conducted under the previous system.

Sirisena has asked the SC to provide the replies to him on or before August 30.

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