By S.S. Selvanayagam
Senior journalist Victor Ivan and seven others yesterday filed rights petition challenging the 20 June Parliamentary Election.
Petitioners Victor Ivan, T.M. Premawardana, Prof. Anton Meemana, A.M Jiffry, S. Sivagurunathan, Mahinda Hattaka, M.S. Jayakodi and Dr. H.D.S.F.D Herath cited Attorney General Dappula de Livera, Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, and Election Commission members N. J. Abeysekera and Ratnajeevan Hoole as Respondents.
The Petitioners state that the 8th Parliament was dissolved and/or purportedly dissolved on or about 2 March 2020, 25 April 2020 was nominated and/or purportedly nominated as the date for elections; and the new Parliament was summoned and/or purportedly summoned to meet on 14 May 2020 in terms of Gazette Extraordinary No. 2165/08 of 2 March 2020. They state that thereafter the Election Commission gave inter alia notice of poll on or about 20 March 2020 that the election would be held on 25 April 2020.
However, on 21 March, the Election Commission purported to make Order that “in terms of the powers vested in the Election Commission under Section 24(3) of the Parliament Elections Act, No. 01 of 1981…the poll for the Election in the Electoral Districts mentioned in the Schedule below cannot be taken on the 25 of April 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka,” they state. On 20 April 2020, the Election Commission purported to appoint 20 June 2020 as the date for holding of the poll.
They state that the Members of the Election Commission have held out in media appearances that unless a free and fair poll can be held on 20 June 2020, which includes the ability for parties and candidates to campaign freely and openly, the date would be postponed even further. They state that in terms of the law and the Constitution, elections must be held and a new Parliament summoned within three months of the dissolution of Parliament.
They state that the said Parliament was dissolved and/or purportedly dissolved on or about 2 March 2020; 25 April was nominated and/or purportedly nominated as the date for elections; and the new Parliament was summoned and/or purportedly summoned to meet on 14 May 2020 in terms of Gazette Extraordinary No. 2165/08 of 2 March 2020.
Thereafter on or about 20 April 2020, the Election Commission (2nd – 4th Respondents) purported to appoint 20 June 2020 as the date for holding of the poll to the effect that a new Parliament would not sit within three months of dissolution, and the country would be deprived of a Parliament for a period beyond the maximum permissible limit. They state that the Sovereignty of the People would be fatally undermined were Parliament to remain dissolved for more than three months.
They state that the need for Parliament to function is more pronounced than ever in the face of a national crisis such as the present one, especially given the provisions of the Public Security Ordinance read with the Constitution, the potential need for new legislation and the need for legislative oversight of the executive. They insist the Election Commission was not empowered to alter the date of poll and contends the Gazette notification amending the notification with the date prescribed for the holding of polls is unlawful, void ab initio and of no force or effect in law.
They maintain that in any event a free and fair election cannot be held on 20 June 2020 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and measures taken in respect of the same. They are seeking the Court to quash the impugned Gazette notifications. President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran is to appear for this petition.