Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said yesterday that if the Parliamentary Election could not be held on time, steps must be taken to avoid a constitutional crisis at all costs, warning such a crisis entails the risk of delegitimising and destabilising our country and could gravely impact Sri Lanka’s prospects of obtaining economic relief.
“Sri Lanka is the only democracy to face COVID-19 crisis without a Legislature to pass laws and financial appropriations to combat the pandemic and its economic consequences. It is my opinion that the Government and Opposition must engage with the Election Commission and with each other urgently and in good faith. If there are any precautions or new laws that the commission determines would allow it to safely hold elections in time, these must be explored immediately,” he said.
The former Speaker said he had recently been contacted by religious and political leaders, parliamentarians, academics, civil society and trade union representatives and members of the public seeking clarification on the impasse between the Election Commission and Executive on Parliamentary Elections.
“Sri Lanka and the world are faced with an unprecedented health and economic crisis. As the prospect of a constitutional crisis further compounding the plight of our country is a matter of grave national concern, I am setting out my position publicly rather than replying to each query individually,” Jayasuriya said in a statement.
He said that on 2 March, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament by proclamation, calling for Parliamentary Elections to be held on 25 April and for the new Parliament to meet on 14 May and on 21 March the Election Commission invoked its authority in terms of Section 24 (3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, announcing that the poll for the Parliamentary Election could not be taken on 25 April due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka.
“Article 70 (5) (a) of the Constitution requires that upon the dissolution of Parliament, the new Parliament shall be summoned to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of the proclamation that dissolved Parliament, which must happen by 2 June 2020.”
Jayasuriya in his statement made reference to the letters exchanged between the Election Commission and the Secretary to the President, indicating that it was the position of the Election Commission that the prevailing situation and logistical constraints prohibited Parliamentary Elections from being held in time for the new Parliament to be summoned to meet by 2 June and the Government was of the view that there wasn’t necessarily any impediment to holding the Parliamentary Elections on or before 28 May.
“In the interest of the nation, I appeal to the Government, Opposition, and other stakeholders to set aside their political differences and to take urgent and meaningful steps to avoid an unnecessary third crisis for our country,” he said.