Pic by Nisal Baduge
By Yoshitha Perera
The Election Commission informed the Supreme Court yesterday that under the prevailing pandemic situation in the country it was not possible to conduct the general election on June 20.
President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris, appearing on behalf of Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya and its member Nalin Abeysekara, informed the five-Judge Bench that it was not feasible to conduct the general election on June 20.
“When considering a suitable time period to conduct the election, the EC decided that a date for the election will be fixed nine to 11 weeks after receiving the green light from the health authorities that the country is safe,” Mr. Peiris informed Court.
He said the Commission had sought the assistance of the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Anil Jasinghe for health guidelines that need to be maintained when conducting the general election.
Mr. Peiris said the Election Commissioner had specifically instructed him to inform the Court that the EC was mindful of organising the election while adhering to the stipulated health guidelines.
He said the work of coordinating the election process had considerably slowed down because of the curfew and the need for social distancing.
With regard to accepting nominations on March 16, 17 and 18, which were declared as special holidays, Mr. Peiris said the nominations were accepted by the EC on the basis that they were not public holidays.
“The special holidays were declared by the government in its effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 and as such it was no means a violation of the Public Holiday Act,” he said.
Meanwhile, President’s Counsel M. A. Sumanthiran, who appeared for Charitha Gunaratne informed court his client, had decided not to proceed any further with his petition as he had received the relief sought based on the submissions made by Saliya Peiris PC.
The Supreme Court’s five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya as Chairman and Justices Buwaneka Aluvihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith Malalgoda continued the hearing of the fundamental rights petitions for the third consecutive day yesterday.
The seven FR petitions were filed by Charitha Maithri Gunaratne, Dr. Pakiyasothy Saravanamuttu, Victor Ivan and seven others, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and three others challenging the election date set by the EC while 15 others had filed intervenient petitions.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General on behalf of the President, EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya and members N. J. Abeysekara and Ratnajeevan Hoole, Presidential Secretary P.B. Jayasundara and DGHS Dr. Anil Jasinghe were cited as respondents by the petitioners.
Appearing on behalf of the Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya and its member Nalin Abeysekara, President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris informed the five-Judge Bench that, as per the current situation in the country, it would not be feasible to conduct the General Election on June 20.
Polling day to be announced 11 weeks after nod from the health authorities
“When we consider the time period to conduct the election, the Election Commissioner had a discussion with the other members and decided that once the green light is given by the health authorities that the country is safe to have an election, the EC can decide to hold polls within 9-11 weeks,” Saliya Peiris PC informed the Court.
He said the Commission has sought the assistance of the Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe, for health guidelines in respect of conducting the General Election.
“If the guidelines are being finalized and the green light is given by the health authorities, then the EC can conduct the election,” he said.
He said that Election Commissioner had specifically instructed him to inform the Court that EC is mindful of conducting the election as well as respecting the countries health measures. He also highlighted that there are offices which have to work for long period of time to continue the election process, but as of now, due to health measures, curfew and maintaining social distancing, there could be a slowdown in performing their duties.