Polls likely in August 

Black Box by Capt. Vasabha

    • UNP files FR petition; seeks nullification of President’s proclamation

    • SJB’s fate hangs in the balance; ‘unofficial’ talks with the UNP

Last week proved to be somewhat of a decisive week for all those who have been closely following the holding of the 2020 general election. It is now clear that the general election on 20 June will be a no go.

Given the current situation, the 2020 general election is likely to be pushed towards the month of August, sources from the Election Commission (EC) said.

Ironically, it seems as if the 2020 general election would actually be held at the time when the official five-year term of the eighth Parliament would have come to an end if it was not prematurely dissolved on 2 March at the completion of four-and-a-half years.

The EC, after weeks of diplomatic statements, informed the Supreme Court (SC) last Wednesday (20) that the general election could not be held on 20 June.

President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris, appearing for the EC, has made this submission to court when the fundamental rights (FR) petitions challenging the date of the general election and calling for the nullification of the Gazette announcing the election were taken up for hearing at the SC last Wednesday.

The EC has already delayed the issuance of preferential numbers to candidates of the impending general election as well. 

Pieris has stated that an election cannot be held until the health sector gives the green light to go ahead with a general election.

The Counsel also noted that the EC could hold the general election only between a period of nine and 11 weeks from the date the health authorities give an all clear to hold the polls.

However, necessary steps will be taken to hold the election as soon as the EC receives a positive response from the health sector, the President’s Counsel has further stated. 

Also, Attorney-at-Law Asthika Devendra, appearing for EC member Prof. S. Ratnajeevan Hoole, has stated that he agreed with most of the submissions made by Pieris.

Be that as it may, the final call on whether the eighth Parliament would be reconvened upon the lapse of the three-month period since the election proclamation resulting in fresh elections being called eventually, would be with the SC at the conclusion of observations. 

The seven petitions challenging the date of elections were filed by Attorney-at-Law Charitha Gunaratne, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), journalist Victor Ivan, and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).

The hearing of the petitions was carried out for five consecutive days since last Monday (18) before a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena, and Vijith Malalgoda.

Meanwhile, making submissions before the SC on the FR petitions filed by seven parties challenging the holding of general elections on 20 June, President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva has said last Thursday (21) that polling could be taken on any day in another one-and-a-half months unless there was no postponement.

De Silva, who appeared on behalf of one of the respondents, President’s Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, had denied the fact that the EC could fix the date for polls within nine to 11 weeks after receiving the green light from the health authorities.

He has said that the EC still had the time to decide the election date.

“Very recently, the EC had fixed the election date for 20 June and now they say they can’t conduct the election on that day. So, they can fix another day according to Section 24 of the Parliamentary Elections Act,” de Silva had said.

Meanwhile, the continuously widening gap between the Government and EC took a new twist last week when the former blamed the latter for the suspension of the distribution of financial assistance among the needy population of the country.

The Government announced to the media that the distribution of Rs. 5,000 among the financially dependent persons will be suspending in June due to a request by the EC.

The EC however, vehemently denied making such a request from the Government and released details of the letter that was sent by the Commission.

The EC’s letter was addressed to Dr. Jayasundera; Prime Minister’s Secretary Gamini Senarath; Cabinet Secretary S. Amarasekera; Public Administration, Home Affairs, Local Government, and Provincial Council Ministry Secretary J.J. Rathnasiri; Finance Ministry Secretary S.R. Attygalle; and Women and Child Affairs and Social Security Ministry Secretary H.K.D.W.M.N.B. Hapuhinna.

“There is a pattern of increasing complaints that the Rs. 5,000 allowance paid in April and currently being paid for the month of May to persons who have lost their livelihood due to Covid-19, injured/disabled, and the senior citizens is being carried out as a programme to promote the political actives of parties affiliated to the Government,” the letter stated.

The letter has further stated: “It is the opinion of the Election Commission that there is a necessity to evaluate whether there is an actual need to distribute the Rs. 5,000 for the month of June 2020 if the pandemic situation is under control and the country has returned to normalcy with the people being able to carry out their daily activities. However, if the programme is being continued, it should not be given the outlook of a political project. The Election Commission will announce to the public that the distribution of this financial assistance will not be a political project of any party.”

The EC has further requested that provincial and local government politicians should be removed from the programme to distribute financial aid and has called on the Government to pay the required attention to the complaint by the grama niladharis that they would refrain from getting involved in the programme.

However, it was this message by the EC that was announced by the Government as a request by the Commission to stop the distribution of Rs. 5,000 among the public.

UNP goes to court

Meanwhile, the United National Party (UNP), which did not join the bandwagon of petitioners challenging the date of holding general elections, last week took to courts.

The UNP first communicated to the allied opposition political parties that the matter of pushing for the reconvening of the eighth Parliament by nullifying the Gazette announcing elections before the SC should be left for civil society while the members of the Opposition exerted pressure on the Government on a different level.

However, UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam filed an FR case (Case No. SC/FR/133/2020) at the SC on Thursday (21) challenging the indefinite dissolution of the eighth Parliament.

In his petition to the SC, Kariyawasam has stated that the EC had announced the date of the parliamentary election for the ninth Parliament for 20 June 2020 and that the date exceeds the obligatory three-month period envisaged in Article 70 (5) of the Constitution.

Article 70 (5) states that the new parliament must meet on a date no later than three months after the dissolution of the existing parliament. 

As the eighth Parliament was dissolved on 2 March 2020, the three-month period will lapse on 2 June 2020.

The petition goes on to state that post 2 June, the “Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers will also cease to hold office as the Constitution does not contemplate the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers holding office indefinitely without a free and fair parliamentary election being held within the compulsory time limit of three months specified in the Constitution”. 

The petition goes on to state that with the President’s refusal to reconvene the eighth Parliament, and thereby allowing a lapse of more than three months without a sitting Parliament, he has failed in his mandatory duty imposed on him by Article 33 (1) (a) of the Constitution. 

The petition has requested the court to render the President’s proclamation dissolving Parliament “null and void and of no force or effect in law”, and to recognise that the eighth Parliament is legally empowered to function from 3 June 2020, according to the Standing Orders of Parliament.


SJB challenged

An FR petition challenging legality of the SJB Chairman and its Secretary was fixed for support by the SC on Friday (22).

Oshala Herath, who is contesting at the upcoming general election under the UNP from the Colombo District, has filed this writ petition.

The outcome of the petition would decide the fate of nearly 80 former parliamentarians. 

In the event the court holds that the registration of the SJB is not in line with the proper process and deems the party’s nominations list null and void, the former parliamentarians who have filed nominations under the SJB would be in a precarious situation.

The SJB candidates, who are mostly members of the UNP, would have to stay out of the general election race and look at returning to the UNP.

The SC last Monday (18) had decided to consider the writ petition requesting the court to issue an order to the EC to dismiss the SJB nomination papers.

The petition is to be taken up by a SC bench comprising Justices S. Thurairaja, Murdu Fernando, and Yasantha Kodagoda. 

President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva had appeared for the respondents in the case – former Opposition Leader and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa as well as SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara.

De Silva had informed court last Monday that the petition should be dismissed since neither the petitioner nor a counsel representing the petitioner was present in court.

However, after considering the facts involved in the case, the bench decided to take it up for hearing on Friday (22).

Meanwhile, Herath posted a message on his Facebook account explaining the reasons for his absence from court last Monday.

“Dates could not be fixed for the petition that was filed in March due to corona. My counsel filed a motion before court requesting that the case be taken up on 18, 22, and 28 May. My counsel informed me that Case No. SC Writ 01/2020 was not included in the list of cases to be taken up by court today (18),” Herath had explained on Monday night.

The registration process of the SJB has been a disputed fact since February when the idea of registration of a separate party under Premadasa to form an alliance was being mooted.

The EC had also sent a letter to the SJB General Secretary on 6 February 2020 in reference to a letter sent by the SJB on 2 February 2020 on the changing of office bearers of the Ape Jathika Peramuna party. 

“After taking into consideration the above-mentioned letter (2 February 2020) sent by you and the statement that the central committee of your party has decided to function by discarding Clause 22 (II) of the party Constitution, the Election Commission would like to inform that it has accepted the appointment of Sajith Premadasa as the Leader of the Ape Jathika Peramuna and R.M. Ranjith Madduma Bandara as its General Secretary as well as the change in the name of Ape Jathika Peramuna to Samagi Jana Balawegaya,” the letter, signed Commissioner General of the EC Saman Sri Ratnayake, had stated. 

However, after considering this letter, the UNP’s senior lawyers, Daya Pelpola PC and Ronald Perera PC, pointed out to the UNP leadership that these issues needed to be resolved as the non-resolution of the issues when handing in nominations could result in the nomination lists being cancelled.

The UNP lawyers then requested for a list of documents from the SJB:

a) Appointment letters of Premadasa as Chairman and Madduma Bandara as General Secretary of the SJB; 

b) Notice of Central Committee meeting; to amend/replace Constitution; 

c) Minutes of such committee meeting/s; 

d) Notice of National Convention as in terms of Section 10 of the SJB Constitution policies can only be changed by such national convention; 

e) Minutes of such National Convention; 

f) Attendance registers at all such meetings/conventions; 

g) Amendments of SJB Constitution, especially Section 22 where membership in two parties is specifically prohibited. Premadasa and Madduma Bandara should have been appointed AFTER amendment of Section 22; 

h) New Constitution of the SJB

However, the SJB had not submitted the documents resulting in the UNP deciding to go separately under the “elephant” symbol in order to ensure that the party’s lists would not face any legal barriers due to any shortcomings in the registration of the SJB. 

Therefore, with the current petition before the SC, it is clear that the SJB’s fate now hangs in the balance.

It is in this backdrop that the SJB is pushing for the nullification of the nominations for the 2020 general election. The SJB has already filed an FR petition before the SC challenging the date of the general election and has sought the nullification of the Gazette announcing the general election issued on 2 March.

It is no secret that some members of the SJB have already commenced unofficial discussions with the UNP hierarchy to reunite with the UNP.

SLFP blues

On the other side of the divide, after handing over nominations on 19 March, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Central Committee (CC) met after nearly two months last Monday (18) evening.

The meeting at the party headquarters on Darley Road was chaired by Party Leader, former President Maithripala Sirisena.

Several important issues were taken up for discussion at the meeting and key among them was the loss of nominations by several senior SLFPers. The senior SLFPers had lost nominations due to the quota allocated by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), owing to the electoral alliance formed by the SLFP and SLPP.

SLFP CC members Jeewan Kumaratunga, Gamini Thilakasiri, and Nishantha Mutuhettigamage lost nominations in the Sri Lanka Freedom People’s Alliance (SLFPA) and they had raised the question on why they were not granted nominations under the party’s alliance at the impending general election.

When the discussion on the matter had commenced, Kumaratunga had outright blamed the Party Leader and General Secretary for the unfortunate fate that befell several party seniors.

“How can the Party Leader and the General Secretary say they were unaware of the lists that were prepared by an alliance where the party is a key coalition member?” Kumaratunga had charged.

Afterwards, the SLFP hierarchy decided to get an oath signed by all senior SLFPers that they would not leave the party after contesting and entering Parliament.

Apart from former MP Thilanga Sumathipala, the rest had signed the document. Sumathipala had maintained that he would not sign a photocopied document with a date line of March.

Meanwhile, the SLFP CC also decided to cast former SLFP MP Mahinda Samarasinghe out of the party. The decision was reached after Samarasinghe, during the nomination period, accepted membership of the SLPP and gained nomination for the general election through the SLPP.

The SLFP leadership however maintained that despite issues within the party, the members should stand united in order to ensure the victory of its members at the general election.