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Constitutional conundrum in conducting polls

2 April 2020 12:23 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The severe health crisis, triggered by the Coronavirus, continues to  take its toll on public life 

 

The Govt. and the UNP reached some form of understanding with each other yesterday

 According to Article 70(7), the parliamentary elections, once declared, should be concluded within three months

 

With the prolonged restriction of people’s movements through measures such as curfew for the containment of the COVID-19 disease, concern is raised regarding  the unforeseeable socio- economic and political   implications  of such steps. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a proclamation at the beginning of March declaring a snap general election. It was a time when the present crisis had not started raising its head in the country. 


 By the time the nomination period started on March 11, the disease began to rage in the country. The political parties, with utmost precautions to avoid possible infections, interviewed  prospective candidates and compiled nomination papers. Afterwards, they were handed over to the Election Commission which subsequently announced that the elections could not be concluded on April 25. 


 Now the election is put on hold indefinitely. The severe health crisis, triggered by the Coronavirus, continues to  take its toll on public life making it difficult for the government or the Election Commission to figure out when polls could actually be conducted in the future. Everyone is occupied with measures for the containment of the Coronavirus disease. Along with this indecisive  situation, there is going to be a constitutional conundrum for the government regarding the conduct of the elections. 

 

Besides, there will obviously be socio-economic implications for the elections. The supply chain has fractured, and the cash flow in the country is affected


 According to Article 70(7), the parliamentary elections, once declared, should be concluded within three months. Accordingly, the Election Commission cannot postpone elections beyond June 2 of this year. If the elections are to be conducted before June 2, the Commission should start work on it by April 20.


 But, the Election Commission has taken the view that it looks difficult for it to initiate work on the conduct of the parliamentary elections by April 20 because the country is unlikely to come out of the health crisis by that time.  


 The Commission has reportedly  requested the President to seek a constitutional interpretation in this regard by making a reference to the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the President has to revoke the gazette notification issued declaring the elections. In the event of it being done, the nominations filed for the elections will stand invalid, and the political parties and the independent groups are required to prepare them afresh. 


 Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP), which is the governing party, awaits in earnest to have the elections conducted as early as possible to capture parliamentary power with the return of a large number of MPs. It believes so because it has already clinched up presidential powers for another five years.


However, Samagi Jana Balawegaya(SJB) will prefer to see the elections postponed at this moment. There are reasons for one to make such conclusions about this new political formation which is, in fact, a breakaway group of the United National Party(UNP).


 As a newly formed party or an alliance, it needs time to get organised for the elections. SJB, acting under the leadership of former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa cobbled together this party or the alliance along with the former UNP allies just before the declaration of the parliamentary  elections by the President on March2. As a party, it obviously needs time to get its act together at grassroots level. 


 SJB has to make inroads into the traditional vote base of the UNP. Then, it is bound to face stiff resistance from the UNP as well. Biding time will be a good strategy for the SJB. So, it will prefer a postponement of the elections more than any other party at this time.

Police check a car at a checkpoint during a nationwide curfew imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic (AFP)


 Govt, UNP powwow in fighting COVID- 19
 Meanwhile , the government and the UNP reached some form of understanding with each other yesterday. They recognised that this was a national calamity, and both sides should place people’s needs above political interests at this hour.


 After the meeting, UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake said it was a positive discussion, and the government leaders including the President and the Prime Minister were candid. The UNP also thanked the military, the police and the health workers for their contribution while responding to this disaster.


 Besides, there will obviously be socio-economic implications for the elections. The supply chain has fractured, and the cash flow in the country is affected. The government and the UNP discussed these measures.


 In this fashion, the UNP and the government will stand together . SJB is seen as the common enemy for both.

 

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