The eagerly awaited ruling, of the five-Judge Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya as Chairman and Justices Buwaneka Aluvihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardene and Vijith Malalgoda, was delivered today with the refusal to grant leave to proceed to the seven fundamental rights petitions challenging the presidential proclamation dissolving Parliament on March 2 and the Election Commission fixing June 20 as the date of the general election.
The seven petitions were filed by Charitha Maithri Gunaratne an attorney-at-law; Dr. Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA); Ranjith Madduma Bandara of the Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB); veteran journalist Victor Ivan and seven others; Patali Champika Ranawaka of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and Kumara Welgama of the Nava Lanka Freedom Party (NLFP); the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and human rights activist Shreen Saroor and Illangovan.
They cited Attorney General Dappula de Livera on behalf of the President; Presidential Secretary P.B. Jayasundera, the Election Commission (EC) and its three members, Mahinda Deshapriya (Chairman), Nalin J. Abeysekera PC and Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole as the respondents
The Court ruling also implied that the President had acted legally in dissolving Parliament and that of fixing the dates to accept nominations, the date to hold the general election and the date for the inaugural session of the newly-elected Parliament.
Considering the COVID19 pandemic which had made inroads into Sri Lanka and the several measures adopted by the government, the health authorities, the security forces and the Police to prevent the virus from spreading had resulted in the Election Commission (EC) fixing June 20 as the new date to hold the general election in place of April 25 the date initially fixed by the President.
Be that as it may, at the outset of the Court hearings on May 18, President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris appearing on behalf of the EC informed Court that the EC was not in a position to hold the general election on June 20 and that at least 10 to 11 weeks were needed, from the date an all-clear certificate was received from the Health authorities, to work out the logistics involved in holding the general election.
Now that Supreme Court has delivered its ruling after 10 days of having considered the submissions and counter submissions by the main petitioners and the intervenient petitioners, it is up to the Election Commission to get its election machinery operating as smoothly as possible by fixing a new election date to start with. Considering the current situation in the country with the number of COVID19-infected patients increasing by the day, the EC is left with an unenviable task of issuing guidelines to the various political parties on the methodology that needs to be adopted for election campaigning and the voting and counting processes so as to ensure a free and fair election. As one could imagine, the preparations to hold a general election, especially at a difficult time such as this when the entire country is fighting hard to eradicate the deadly virus, is easier said than done.
Still on the subject of COVID19 we regularly hear Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Police Media Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana and Army Commander Shavendra Silva, repeatedly admonishing all and sundry about the need to strictly adhere to Health Guidelines when venturing out of home. They make it a point to say that physical distancing, the wearing of face masks, hand hygiene and the avoidance of large gatherings are mandatory and those found violating these guidelines will be arrested and charged under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Law.
But despite being repeatedly cautioned, we saw last week visuals of hundreds of people, attending the 6-day funeral of a former minister from the hill country, blatantly violating all Health Guidelines.
We saw the huge crowds that had gathered at his residence to pay their last respects showing scant regard to physical distancing and the wearing of face masks while some of those wearing them having the masks round their necks. We even saw the Prime Minister disregarding the often repeated health guidelines by embracing the late minister’s son prompting many to ask whether the law applies differently to different people -- one for ordinary citizens and another for the rich and elite.
We highlight this matter not with any ulterior motives but mainly for the important reason that every citizen is a stakeholder in the fight to eradicate COVID19 from Sri Lankan soil and the disregard of the prescribed Health Guidelines places the citizenry at grave risk. We wonder what the powers-that-be have to say on this matter.