The Sri Lankan Election Commission on Monday fixed June 20 as the date for the parliamentary elections. The new date was announced because the commission could not hold the polls as scheduled earlier on April 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wanting a parliament in which his party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and its allies will have a majority, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on March 2, dissolved parliament and declared that polling for a new parliament will be held on April 25.
The new parliament was to meet within three months or before June 2.
However, the coronavirus intervened and the Election Commission postponed the elections indefinitely, though as per the parliamentary elections Act, it ought to have announced another date along with the announcement of postponement.
Even as the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakasa were keen on holding the elections fast to get a parliament in which they will have a majority, the Election Commission felt that the elections could not be held in the foreseeable future because of the continuing threat posed by the coronavirus.
The Election Commission also felt that the constitutional requirement for the new parliament to meet by June 2 could not be met under the circumstances.
The commission then wrote to the Secretary to the President Dr. P.B.Jayasundara, suggesting that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seek the advice of the Supreme Court.
Dr.Jayasundara wrote back to say that there is no need to seek the view of the Supreme Court as under the parliamentary elections act, the Election Commission could and should fix a suitable date for the elections. Jayasundara stated the President would not like to interfere with the prerogative of the Election Commission in this regard.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa reiterated this position later. But he also said that coronavirus threat has been mitigated and that life is returning to normal, thereby indicating that the elections can be held soon so that a new parliament can meet before June 2.
With both the President’s office and the Prime Minister asking the Election Commission to fix a date for the polls, the three-man Election Commission met here on Monday to deliberate on the issue. After consulting medical and security experts it announced June 20 as the date of the elections.
The new date gives the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government more time to fight the coronavirus and also to put the derailed economy back on its rails. This will help it fight the elections with greater confidence than now given the fact that the battle against the virus is still on and the economy is still to stalled because of the nation-side lockdown.
The opposition, which is weak, divided and without adequate support among the majority Sinhalese community, will get more time to get together and take up issues.
Opposition stalwarts were hoping that the President could be pressurised to cancel his March 2 gazette dissolving parliament and reconvening the dissolved parliament in which the opposition had the majority.
But the President was firmly against reviving the dissolved parliament as was the Prime Minister. By announcing a fresh date for the elections the Election Commission has forced the opposition to enter the contest without further ado.