- Many social and legal observers are of the view that the legal and constitutional issues before the country’s highest court were historic
By Sandun A. Jayasekera
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court is expected to take up today, seven petitions filed in the apex court challenging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to dissolve Parliament and Elections Commissions’ decision to postpone the election scheduled to be held on April 25 among other matters.
Attorney-at-Law Charitha Gunaratne, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), journalist Victor Ivan along with seven others, and Ranjith Madduma Bandara of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), and former MPs Kumara Welgama and Champika Ranawaka, have filed fundamental rights (FR) petitions challenging various aspects of the constitutional quagmire, from the decision to dissolve Parliament on March 2 to the continued postponement of elections, to what they allege are irregularities in financial appropriations without parliamentary approval. There are 11 intervening petitions also.
Many social and legal observers are of the view that the legal and constitutional issues before the country’s highest court were historic.
Petitioners state articles 70 and 33(2)(c) of the Constitution permits the President to dissolve Parliament prior to the completion of its five-year term, after the passage of four and a half years from its first sitting and the President used this power to dissolve the Eighth Parliament on March 2 by Gazette Extraordinary no. 2165/8 and fixed April 25 as the date for the election of the Ninth Parliament, adding this was despite the fact that Covid-19 was spreading across the world, and Sri Lanka was taking steps to combat it. The petition notes the declaration of Covid-19 as a pandemic, and its rapid spread resulted in the Election Commission making a decision to postpone the election. It goes on to note, thereafter, on April 20, the Commission issued Gazette Extraordinary no. 2172/3 fixing the election for June 20. The Gazette by which the Eight Parliament was dissolve fixed the date for the first meeting of the Ninth Parliament for the 14th of May 2020.
The Petitioners have stated that while the said Gazette remains in place, a new date for the election of the ninth Parliament cannot be fixed beyond June 2. The Petitioners argued that regardless of how it is dissolved, Article 70(5) of the Constitution provides a mandatory time limit within which a new Parliament should meet, i.e. three months from the date of dissolution.
The Petitioners state that if the March 2 dissolution is permitted to stand, this would have required the new Parliament to meet for the first time by June 2. Thus, a decision to hold the election on June 20 is unconstitutional, and a violation of their fundamental rights.
The lack of a functioning Parliament for more than three months undermines the sovereignty of the people and undermines the rule of law.
In light of all these circumstances, the Petitioners have requested the Supreme Court to declare that their fundamental rights under Articles 12(1) and 14(1)(a) of the Constitution have been violated.
The Attorney General (AG) has refused to appear for the EC and its members in the FR cases before the SC, forcing the EC to retain private lawyers to represent the Commission and its individual members.