Five-Judge Bench to decide FR petitions on holding GE | Sunday Observer

Five-Judge Bench to decide FR petitions on holding GE

A five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court will hear the seven fundamental rights (FR) petitions filed challenging the dissolution of Parliament and holding the General Election on June 20, tomorrow (May 18).

The petitions by several political parties and civil society activists, including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya led by Sajith Premadasa, former Ravaya Editor and activist Victor Ivan, Centre for Policy Alternative Executive Director and son of former UNP parliamentarian Maithree Gunaratna, Attorney Charitha Gunaratna are seeking an order that holding the election on June 20 is unconstitutional.

The Chief Justice, Jayantha Jayasuriya appointed Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith Malalgoda to the bench headed by the Chief Justice to hear the petitions.

Journalist Victor Ivan and seven others, supporting one FR petition state that in view of the Covid-19 crisis and the measures taken to control it, a free and fair election cannot be held on the day stipulated by the Election Commission (EC). They have emphasised the need for Parliament to function to make way for possible new legislation and ensure legislative oversight of the executive during this national crisis. M.A. Sumanthiran PC is to appear for this petition.

General Secretary of the Democratic United National Front Ariyawansa Dissanayake also filed a Fundamental Rights application at the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking an interim injunction to stop the election from being held on June 20.

He said that since Parliament cannot re-convene within three months of its dissolution as required by the Constitution the election should not be held on June 20 as scheduled. He is seeking the SC to annul the Gazette notices issued by the President dissolving Parliament on March 2 and the recent Gazette issued by the EC fixing polls for June 20. The petition has also sought to block any activity related to holding the election including preferential numbers being issued to candidates.

Earlier, (May 4) Attorney General (AG) Dappula de Livera confirmed that the Election Commission should go ahead with holding the general election. He said this when the EC clarified from the AG’s office on a legal matter that was raised by several party leaders questioning the validity of nominations.

The EC sought clarification from the AG on whether the nominations, accepted on days declared as public holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic were invalid as pointed out by the party leaders at a meeting at the Election Secretariat.

Public Administration Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon in a special Gazette notification declared March 17, 18 and 19 as special public holidays as an emergency measure to prevent the spread of the deadly Covid-19.

The AG had responded stating that the Election Commission should follow the ‘procedure established by law’ to conduct the election as it has taken ‘consequential steps’ towards this end. Before Covid-19 became a global health crisis, the Election Commission scheduled the election for April 25, 2020 after accepting nominations up to March 19. Subsequently, in view of the countrywide police curfew and lockdown to prevent community transmission of the deadly virus the date of the election was postponed to June 20.

While the fractured main opposition UNP is in a dire situation, with party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and former Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa leading the party in two directions, the groups are making every possible effort to postpone the upcoming parliamentary election, former Foreign Minister and SLPP member Prof.G.L.Peiris said.

“Another fear is that if elections are held soon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will secure a landslide victory due to the success of his handling of the pandemic within the country, “ political observers voiced, adding that in view of this possibility the UNP and their support base including the TNA are clamouring for the postponement of the election, using the health situation as cover.

Former Opposition Leader Premadasa told media that his party was not ready for an election before the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control. Director General Health Services, Dr.Anil Jasinghe said last week that the threat of the pandemic has been brought under control now and all new cases that are being reported in the country are from quarantine centres.

The Opposition has also sought the reconvening of the old Parliament to which President Rajapaksa has responded with a firm ‘no’ dismissing claims that he needed approval from the House to spend state funds after April 30.

The President and the Government maintain that holding elections is the prerogative of the Election Commission, thus the decision is in the hands of the Commission members and the health officials. Hence, they did not wish to intervene and stop elections from being held.

SLFP General Secetary Dayasiri Jayasekera said, the Government did not wish to take away the democratic rights of the people unlike the former Government.