Even as Sri Lanka’s health authorities continue fighting COVID-19, which has so far affected 269 persons, the government and Opposition parties have expressed conflicting views on holding poll during the raging global pandemic.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has urged the Election Commission to fix the date for the general election, after the poll scheduled for April 25 were postponed in the wake of the coronavirus. In a statement issued on Saturday, Mr. Rajapaksa said the Commission was “mandatorily required” to fix another day for the polls, when they cannot be held on the day fixed by the President. “Things have to come back to normal sooner or later,” he said.
The PM’s message comes at a time when Sri Lanka prepares to ease the curfew this week in select districts, after a near-total lockdown for a month. As of Sunday, as many as 96 persons have recovered, while over 100 others are being monitored under quarantine, according to Sri Lanka’s Health Promotion Bureau.
EC to decide?
On the revised date for the polls, the Election Commission asked President Rajapaksa to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the matter, citing the exceptional circumstances following the pandemic. However, President Rajapaksa has maintained that the question of seeking the apex court’s ruling did not arise, when “the date for fixing the poll is the responsibility of the Election Commission”. The Commission is yet to comment.
Meanwhile, Opposition parties have raised concern over holding elections in the near future, while the threat of the pandemic lingers. Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya urged the government and the Opposition to engage with the Commission “urgently” to prevent an “unnecessary constitutional crisis”, as the last Parliament was dissolved on March 2. “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,” he said.
Almost all Opposition parties have sought the reconvening of Parliament using President Gotabaya’s executive powers, while urging the Election Commission to refrain from holding poll until the health risk is eliminated. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) said in its letter to the Commission that until health authorities and the police provide “complete clearance” for free movement throughout the country, it is not possible to publish the notice of poll, fixing the revised date for the general election. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said that there can be no effective exercise of democracy in the form of an election in the midst of such a pandemic, which global health experts have warned, is likely to pose an active threat for the next several months. “Until and unless both local and global health experts clearly indicate that it is safe to do so, conducting an election in the present circumstances will be extremely dangerous and irresponsible,” leaders of its constituent parties said in a letter dated April 18.
While nearly 100 patients in Sri Lanka have fully recovered, the risk of the disease spreading is “not fully over”, Director-General of Public Health Anil Jasinghe told the media on Saturday.
Senior doctors in Sri Lanka earlier told The Hindu that a reasonable assessment of the situation was possible only at the end of four to five incubation cycles. Sri Lanka has finished two.