“No one can delay presidential election” | Sunday Observer

“No one can delay presidential election”

In an interview with the Sunday Observer last week National Election Commission Chairman, Mahinda Deshapriya said there is no ambiguity as to when the President’s term ends and the Election Commission can call for nominations anytime after November 1.

In the light of a brewing dialogue as to whether the President can continue till June 2020 and comments by the SLFP General Secretary to this effect, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Chairman, Prof.G.L.Peiris made a Right to Information request from the Presidential Secretariat a few days back demanding to know if the President or someone acting on his behalf has made an inquiry from the Attorney General on the current Presidential term of office.

Excerpts:

Q. According to the Presidential Elections Act or any other law, are there provisions to postpone the upcoming presidential election?

A. No one can delay the presidential election under the present law but the President can advance the election if he hopes to go for a re-election, if he wishes to get the people’s mandate for a second term. After four years, the President is entitled to do that. There are no legal obstacles and no one can stop the election from being held by December 2019 under ordinary circumstances.

Q. Who is empowered to issue the gazette notification announcing the election – the Elections Commission or the President?

A. The Elections Commission can issue the ‘gazette notification’ fixing dates for the election and the nomination period. We can schedule the period after November 1.

Q. Election monitors including PAFFREL say the National Election Commission can go ahead and hold the Presidential Election even if the government or the President does not take action.

A. The PAFFREL statement is correct. By the end of September we can issue the notice fixing election dates but we want to wait till October.

The three members of the Election Commission have discussed and met President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to inform election dates and explain the law governing the Presidential Election.

Q. Some ambiguity has been expressed again over the current presidential term, about ‘when’ it will end. How can it be cleared? Is another Supreme Court interpretation necessary?

A. Our opinion is the presidential term ends on January 9, 2020. That is when the five year term of the current President ends. A new president or the same president if he wins a second mandate should be in office by this date. We must have the elections between November 9 - December 9. But if anyone needs an interpretation from the Supreme Court, the President can ask for it. The Election Commission cannot move court on such matters.

We are issuing the notice calling for nominations, on or after October 1. The nomination period can be fixed around October 20, because as per the law the earliest date to schedule the election is November 15 and the last date is December 7, considering calendar holidays as well.

Q. Can we have the General election before the presidential election? Does the law provide for such situations? Will the delimitation be an issue?

A. If the legislators decide to dissolve Parliament and hold general elections, they can do it. Even today Parliament can be dissolved. Delimitation will not be an issue because there has been no change to the parliamentary election system.

We have a provincial council (PC) election being delayed due to delimitation issues. That is because the PC electoral system underwent changes and with it demarcation of new wards became mandatory, however, this delimitation process was not completed by Parliament.

Until Parliament approves the new delimitation report or passes a Bill that will allow the Elections Commission to hold the PC election under the old system, the elections cannot be held.

Q. Do you think the current security situation is conducive to hold islandwide elections? Have you had any discussions on this with the security and national intelligence agencies?

A. I don’t think the election must be delayed due to the security situation. We held an election in 1988, this was one of the worst periods, the security situation in the country was very bad due to the insurgency. During the 1994 election too, the security situation was grim. It was soon after the ceasefire and the conflict in the Northern Province had escalated. The 2005 election was not a smooth one either, there were security threats due to LTTE activities.

The security situation today is not an issue to delay elections. The schools are functioning, government offices are functioning and public transport is not affected, so I don’t think there is a need to postpone elections. We will be discussing the issue with security heads. 

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