President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday declared that he wouldn’t hesitate to withdraw from the international bodies relentlessly attacking Sri Lanka over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.
He said so at the 11th annual commemoration of the defeat of the LTTE. The ceremony was held at War Heroes’ memorial in Battaramulla.
The President said: “Even leaders of powerful countries have emphatically stated that they would not allow any action against their war heroes. As such, in a small country like ours where our war heroes have sacrificed so much, I will not allow anyone, or organization, to exert undue pressure on them and harass them.
“If any international body or organization continuously targets our country and our war heroes, using baseless allegations, I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organizations.”
(20th May, 2020 Statement Issued by the Peoples Alliance for Right to Land (PARL) on recent developments in Pottuvil Muhudu Maha Viharaya inclusive of Misuse of land acquisition laws and the military)
The People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL) is deeply disturbed by the military intervention in civilian land administration in the Pottuvil Muhudu Maha Viharaya area in Ampara, and the reported moves to attempt legal acquisition of these lands as an archaeological site without adhering to transparent procedures, providing scientific justification of archaeological claims, and consulting with affected communities.
Any developments must also take account of the fact that land issues in this area have a complex history, and its people have long standing grievances that require sensitive and meaningful solutions.
The second day of hearing of Fundamental Rights (FR) petitions that have been filed challenging the Gazette issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolving Parliament as well as the Gazette issued by the Election Commission that has set 20 June as the date for the General Election were taken up before a five-member Bench of the Supreme Court yesterday.
The Bench comprises Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya as well as Justices Buwaneka Aluvihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena, and Vijith Malalgoda.
Counsel for five of the Petitioners made submissions yesterday arguing that the Gazette notification issued by the President dissolving Parliament is no longer valid as the Constitution stipulates the new Parliament must meet within three months of such a dissolution.
The Supreme Court yesterday began hearings into several Fundamental Rights petitions that have been filed challenging the Gazette issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolving Parliament as well as the Gazette issued by the Election Commission that set 20 June as the date for the poll.
The case is being heard before a five-member Bench consisting of Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya as well as Justices Buwaneka Aluvihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena, and Vijith Malalgoda.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday issuing a statement to mark the 11th year anniversary to commemorate the victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) reiterated it was not a war against the Tamil people, but against an organisation designated by the FBI as the deadliest terrorists in the world.
Following is the full statement issued by the Prime Minister:
“On 19 May we mark the 11th anniversary of the victory against the LTTE. That was not a war against the Tamil people but against an organisation designated by the FBI as the deadliest terrorists in the world. Due to the defeat of the LTTE, Tamil people are now free to live as they wish. Tamil children are no longer forcibly recruited by the LTTE. Tamil politicians no longer live in fear of LTTE assassins. Furthermore, due to the absence of the LTTE, elections can be held in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and that has safeguarded the sovereign rights of the people of those provinces.
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, will tomorrow, May 18, examine at least six Fundamental Rights petitions challenging the holding of the Parliamentary General Elections on June 20 and the President’s refusal to reconvene the recently dissolved Parliament.
At these hearings, the Court will decide whether they are to accept the petitions and grant “leave to proceed” with the cases.
Some of the petitions are seeking the reconvening of the recently dissolved Eighth Parliament as a solution for a looming Constitutional Crisis and an invalidation of the date of the election now fixed for June 20.
Monday and Tuesday have been set aside for the hearings.
Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya has appointed Supreme Court Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith K Malalgoda to the bench that will decide whether leave to proceed will be granted. Chief Justice Jayasuriya will preside.
The CJ may appoint a full seven-judge bench for the hearings, if leave to proceed is granted.
When Seven major opposition parties made an offer of responsible cooperation in return for restoration of Parliament to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa they were rudely rebuffed. When his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa invited all former MP’s of the dissolved Parliament for a political conference, he was rebuffed (but not rudely) by all opposition parties. All parties except one. Of the seven opposition parties who jointly made the responsible cooperation offer, only the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) accepted the premier’s invitation albeit with reservations. By responding positively to PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s invitation positively, the TNA seems to have scored politically.
What had happened earlier was that in a related development several of Sri Lanka’s opposition parties came together for a common purpose in the national interest. Seven political parties, namely, the United National Party (UNP), Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) issued a ten – point joint statement on April 27 pledging ‘Responsible cooperation’ to the President and Government if Parliament is restored in the best interests of the country and all her people. Continue reading ‘TNA Scores Politically By Responding To PM Mahinda’s Invitation Positively’ »
BEFORE THE presidential election he won last November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa laid out for Banyan his vision for Sri Lanka. It was a sunlit upland of peaceful, inclusive “knowledge-based” development. All the political bickering of recent years, “Gota” promised, would be swept aside by his programme of brisk, technocratic proficiency. His years as an army officer would ensure that.
A military timbre to the former lieutenant-colonel’s rule was always on the cards. Mr Rajapaksa’s campaign dwelt on the need for a “disciplined society”. Viyathmaga, a social movement with political ambitions that backed him, counted many former officers among its leaders. The president’s personal network is rooted not just in his family (his elder brother, Mahinda, now prime minister, was himself president from 2005 to 2015). Go
ta commands the loyalty of past and present soldiers, a band of brothers from his time fighting a horrific, long-running civil war against Tamil insurgents, first as an officer and latterly as the powerful secretary of defence under Mahinda.
(Text of Statement Issued by R Sampanthan Leader of the Tamil National Alliance and former Member of Parliament)
My attention has been drawn to the interview said to have been given to the media by Mr. M. A. Sumanthiran, President’s Counsel, former Member of Parliament Jaffna District, and Spokesman for the Tamil National Alliance.
Mr. Sumanthiran has been frank and forthright in his answers to questions that have been asked with the deliberate purpose of promoting mischief and disunity amongst the people of this country particularly amongst the Tamil people with the ulterior purpose of sabotaging efforts to find a resolution to the National Question within the framework of a single united undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka.
On 11 and 12 May, several newspaper and websites quoted the Attorney General as stating in Court that day that he could not represent the Election Commission in the ongoing FR petitions on the Parliamentary Elections.
The Attorney General represented by ASG Indika Devamuni de Silva said that the AG would represent only State institutions named as Respondents. The EC was not considered a public institution; it was an independent commission. Therefore the AG Department would not represent the Elections Commission or its Chairman, the ASG added.
Nonsense. Pure spin. The EC has been an Independent Commission from late 2014 and has been represented by the AG in dozens of cases. When did the AG discover that he cannot represent Independent Commissions?
Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has sought the release of “political prisoners” who were arrested — some convicted — for their alleged association with or role in the rebel LTTE during the civil war.
On Tuesday night, TNA spokesman and former Jaffna parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran handed over a list of the detainees under Sri Lanka’s controversial Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) Act to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“There are 96 political prisoners in all and 47 of them were convicted. Only a presidential pardon can release them,” he said, referring to the Sri Lankan President’s discretionary power to grant amnesty. In March this year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned a soldier who was on death row for killing eight Tamil civilians, including a five-year-old, during the civil war.
There is a standoff between the New President and the Old Parliament. The Old Parliament wants the New President to recall it. And the New President wants to bring in a New Parliament that supports him. But both are stuck. The Old Parliament does not have the power to recall itself. It depends on the President. And the President does not have the power to hold elections. He depends on the Election Commission. And the Election Commission does not have the power to hold an election whenever it wishes. Its decision depends on the state of the coronavirus.
If the corona pandemic dissipates or even remains at the same level after the lockdown is eased on May 11, elections can be held on June 20. But if the coronavirus continues to spread or there is a spike in the numbers of those infected, the elections will have to be pushed back further.
The President blames the Old Parliament, arguing it cannot be trusted to deliver the funds, the legislation or the political support to deal with the corona crisis despite the risk to Sri Lankan lives. Meanwhile, the Old Parliament blames the New President, saying he is in an unseemly rush to hold elections so he can have a majority in parliament, despite the risk to Sri Lankan lives due to the coronavirus.
Both should understand that however much they would like to blame each other, the culprit is corona. And the real decision maker of how to deal with elections in the context of corona is not Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksha or Sajith Premadasa. It is Mahinda Deshapriya, Jeevan Hoole and Nalin Abeysekara. It is the latter three who will call the shots, as long as the former cannot agree.
The Election Commission, which met yesterday, decided to postpone the issuing of the Gazette notification bearing the names and preferential number of candidates contesting the upcoming General Election until the Supreme Court rules on the Fundamental Rights petitions filed challenging the date of the election.
EC sources said the Commission decided to await the Court ruling, as issuing of preferential numbers would result in the candidates beginning their campaigns when there was uncertainty over the election date.
The Supreme Court on Monday fixed 18 and 19 May to consider the seven Fundamental Rights petitions that have been filed challenging the Gazette Notification setting 20 June as the date of the Parliamentary Election.
June 20th 2020 is the D-day for Sri Lankan Parliamentary Elections. The Election Commission has fixed June 20 as the new date for the postponed election of April 25. However a question mark looms large over the holding of polls on the said date as scheduled. At least eight fundamental rights petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the holding of elections on June 20.
Among the petitioners are a civil society group of Prominent Sri Lankans led by Journalist Victor Ivan, the Centre for Policy Alternatives and its Executive Director Dr.Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu, Samagi Jana Balavegaya General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Jathika Hela Urumaya leader Patali Champika Ranawaka, Former Kalutara district MP Kumar Welgama and Attorney – at – law Charitha Gunaratne.
Three separate benches comprising three judges each are expected to begin hearing them next week from May 11th onwards. The first of the cases will be taken up for support by the Supreme Court on Monday May 11th . This will be the FR petition filed by Charitha Gunaratne.The bench will comprise Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justice Murdu Fernando and Justice Sithamparapillai Thurairajah. In an unexpected turn of events Presidents Counsel M. A. Sumanthiran is expected to appear on behalf of petitioner Gunaratne. Ex-Jaffna district MP Sumanthiran will also be appearing for the Group led by Victor Ivan when that petition is taken up by courts.
‘Responsive cooperation’ was at one time a popular phrase in the political lexicon of Ceylon as Sri Lanka was known in the past. It came into vogue through G.G. Ponnambalam, the mercurial leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), founded in 1944.
The G.G. Ponnambalam-led Tamil Congress demanded a political system based on the principle of balanced representation known popularly as ‘fifty-fifty’ to safeguard the minority communities under majority rule after the then Ceylon gained independence from Britain.
What G.G. Ponnambalam wanted was for one-half of the seats in the Legislature to be allocated to the majority community (Sinhalese) and the other half to be divided among the minority communities (Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays). The Soulbury Commission rejected the balanced representation proposal.
The pragmatic Ponnambalam accepted the inevitable with the impending dawn of Independence and adjusted his policies accordingly. He abandoned the politics of confrontation and proposed a new approach of accommodation and cooperation with the majority. The Tamil Congress changed its stance from balanced representation to responsive cooperation.
“We are for responsive cooperation with fair -minded Sinhalese,” said Ponnambalam. The responsive cooperation proposed by Ponnambalam culminated in his joining the Government of Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake and becoming Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries in the UNP Cabinet.
More than seven decades later the concept of responsive cooperation has re-emerged within the political discourse of the Island nation albeit with a variation. The old ‘Responsive cooperation’ has been replaced with the new ‘Responsible cooperation’.
The world including Sri Lanka is undergoing a pandemic crisis of colossal proportions. The Island nation however is in double jeopardy as it is in the grip of two crises siumultaneously. One of course is the Covid-19 Health crisis inflicted globally by nature. The other experienced by Sri Lanka is the Constitutional crisis which is essentially man made. Complicating matters further is the fact that both the corona crisis and the Constitutional crisis are to some extent inter-twined in the Sri Lankan context.
Karu Jayasuriya who was the previous Parliament’s Speaker (technically he remains Speaker until the new Parliament convenes) has observed very correctly that Sri Lanka is the only country facing the Coronavirus without a legislature. The parliament elected in 2015 has been dissolved. Envisaged elections to elect a new Parliament in 2020 are yet to take place because of postponement due to Covid -19 pandemic. The deadline for the vote on account passed by the previous Parliament is on April 30.
Even though the country is faced with a pandemic, Parliament has not been re-convened to cope with the emergency. There is also no indication by the president that he would rescind his gazette procalamation dissolving parliament. The chances of the postponed election – earlier scheduled for April 25 – being held soon seem remote at present. If so the possibility of a new Parliament meeting before June 2 as stipulated by the constitution is highly unlikely.The country is heading for a crisis of great magnitude. Continue reading ‘Politics of Postponing Parliamentary Elections Amidst a Pandemic’ »
By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
My article, ‘Necessity: Doctrine That Destroyed Pakistani Democracy’ published in The Island on 08 May has evoked interest in the subject and I have been asked for my views on its implications for Sri Lanka, including on whether it can be invoked in the present circumstances.
For the benefit of readers who have not read my earlier article, let me say that according to the doctrine of necessity, first expounded as a criminal law principle, ‘that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity’. We have seen the doctrine of necessity being used to destroy democracy in our neighbourhood, in Pakistan. Chief Justice Munir who first invoked the doctrine in 1954 has been described as the ‘destroyer of Pakistan’. A senior Pakistani lawyer who read my article wrote to me to say that years later, Munir clarified in a lecture at the Lahore High Court that holding against the Governor General would have entailed enforceability issues and caused bloodshed.
In his book ‘From Jinnah to Zia’ published in 1979, Munir does not utter a word about his infamous judgements or about the doctrine, probably out of remorse. After several decades, and military coups which were validated using the doctrine, the Supreme Court, in Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister’s case, refused to resurrect ‘the malignant doctrine of necessity which has already been buried, because of the valiant struggle of the people of Pakistan.’ I wish to correct a mistake in my earlier article; the date of the Gilani judgement is 19 June 2012, not 19 June 2019.
The doctrine has come up for discussion in Sri Lanka due to the postponement of Parliamentary elections due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
By Harindra Dunuwille (The Writer a former Mayor of Kandy is an Attorney-at-Law and an ex-State Minister of Constitutional Affairs)
Dissolution of Parliament
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa exercising his constitutional powers and prerogatives under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, dissolved Parliament immediately upon it completing four and a half years by a Proclamation on the 2nd of March 2020. Under normal circumstances Parliament stands dissolved upon the expiry of five years. Clearly the intention was to go before the electorate hot on the heels of his own impressive victory and cashing in on the split in the UNP.
In both instances of the dissolution of Parliament, it is incumbent upon the President to fix the date of the poll for the ensuing General Election and to summon the new Parliament to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of such dissolution/proclamation. Accordingly he fixed 25th April for the poll and 14th May for the new Parliament to sit, complying with the three month time frame stipulated in the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned legitimate time-frame for the election and summoning of Parliament has been upset by the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, on the 8th of May, we have 724 reported cases and nine deaths. The government appears to be doing its best to overcome the crisis and protect the people.
The growing pandemic has threated the upcoming parliamentary election in several ways. First, it made it practically impossible for the Election Commission to organise the election in the usual way on the date fixed by the President. It has caused the Commission to delay the election until 20th June with no guarantee that the election machinery can be made to function normally even on that date.
Governance in Sri Lanka, is once again, on familiar ground; a constitutional crisis, or at the very least, a constitutional conundrum. In the main, we are presented with two alternatives. Neither of these alternatives seem attractive at first brush; reviving a Parliament that had a mixed record in which we had a minority government since November 2019 or conducting a general election during a pandemic to elect a new parliament. The legality of the curfew and approvals for public spending beyond what has already been approved are two other serious issues that have arisen. As it is often the case in Sri Lanka, public debate on these matters is polarized. The COVID 19 pandemic has led to a crisis in public health. It has also caused a crisis in governance.
Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic is led by the President, with the active leadership of the military. A COVID-19 Health Care and Social Security fund has been established with donations of more than LKR 800 million. The President has appointed one of his brothers to manage this fund. The entire Sri Lankan population has been confined to their homes for several weeks without a clear legal basis for the curfew. The exercise of public power is being centralised beyond the high level of centralization that the Constitution already provides for. As citizens, how should we evaluate these developments?
What lies beyond a first response?
Undoubtedly, this is a global crisis with an indefinite lifespan. The government’s first response, even if slightly delayed, is to be commended. Others who stepped in to ensure delivery of provisions are also to be commended for adapting very quickly to this crisis. The restriction of movement might be an immediate response to slow the spread of the virus, but it cannot be the only response to this complex and dynamic pandemic. Questions about capacity for testing, criteria for testing, capacity for intensive care, personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals and policies on border control must be resolved. Policy decisions and programmes must be revised as ground conditions evolve. Economic policies and decisions must be devised including for debt servicing, regulation of imports and exports and measures for supporting the different sectors that have been affected. Provision of welfare and education are two other equally affected sectors that require immediate policy, planning and programmatic interventions. Now, more than ever before, the state must deliver efficiently, responsively and in a sustained manner.
(Text of a Press Release Issued by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa Under the Heading “Controlling the Coronavirus pandemic and gradual restoration of normal life”)
Covid-19 came to the attention of the world as a new disease around the beginning of this year. From the very outset, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated very candidly that this was a completely new disease and that they too were still in the process of learning more about it.
Even as late as 29 February 2020, the WHO was advising against the imposition of international travel bans. It was only on 6 April that the WHO recommended the use of face masks if it was not possible to maintain social distancing. Every country in the world had to learn more about this disease through experience.
Sri Lanka began preparations for this pandemic quite early. The President set up a task force to combat the Cronavirus as early as 26 January 2020. Even though there were no Coronavirus patients in Sri Lanka at that time, the first quarantine center was declared in Hendala on 4 March. The first Coronavirus patient was discovered on the night of 10 March. From 11 March all passengers coming into Sri Lanka from Coronavirus affected countries, were sent for quarantine.
As the armed forces and police carried out an effective contact tracing programme to identify those who had come into contact with patients, this disease has now been brought under control to a satisfactory degree.
Rishad Bathiudeen, Leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and a former Minister of Industry and Commerce, has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to say that the cremation of Muslims who had died of coronavirus, violates an authentic “Hadeeth” which is attributed to Prophet Mohammad and one of is companions.
”Breaking A Muslim’s Bones When He Is Dead Is Tantamount To Breaking Them When He Is Alive” says a Hadeeth which is authentic and has been ascribed both to the Prophet (PBUH) and to one of the Companions. As such there is no permission to burn the corpse of a dead Muslim,” Bathiudeen points out in his letter, which was also released to the media on Saturday.
“Your Excellency, it is incumbent upon the living Muslims to dispose the body of a dead Muslim as per our religious rites. Among them, burial is the only option prescribed in Islam.It is forbidden for us to cremate our dead. We are expected to take utmost care and sensitivity in even bathing the dead.”
This is not the first time that their livelihoods are being disrupted or destroyed. From the nearly three decade-long civil war until 2009, to the invasive Indian trawlers that reigned their seas soon after, to conflicts with locals operating powerful mechanised boats, to migrant fisherfolk competing for their catch — Sri Lanka’s northern fisherfolk have seen it all. After struggling through the post-war decade, to cope with the aftermath of the devastating war, and against the Indian trawlers’ destructive fishing in Sri Lanka’s waters — which prompted Sri Lanka to introduce tougher laws — things were just beginning to look up. And then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit them.
On March 10, Sri Lanka reported its first local case of COVID-19, when a tour guide tested positive. Ten days later the government imposed a nationwide curfew, forbidding travel from one district to another. As of Saturday evening, Sri Lanka had reported 824 cases, 240 recoveries and nine deaths.
The United States Federal Registry run by the National Archive and Records Administration has published President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s name on its quarterly published expatriate list of individuals renouncing United States citizenship.
The list (document number 2020-09814) published yesterday, prepared by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the US Treasury, lists details of those renouncing US citizenship.
The doctrine of necessity was first expounded in the 13th century by English jurist Bracton, who stated ‘that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity’. Glanville Williams described the defence of necessity as involving ‘a choice of the lesser evil. ‘
The doctrine is recognized in criminal law. For example, section 74 of our Penal Code gives the following illustration: ‘A in a great fire pulls down houses in order to prevent the conflagration from spreading. He does this with the intention, in good faith, of saving human life or property. Here, if it be found that the harm to be prevented was of such a nature and so imminent as to excuse A’s act, A is not guilty of an offence.’
Because of its express recognition, with such illustrations, chances of the doctrine being abused in matters of criminal law are less, also because there is at least one appeal available to a higher court. The danger is with its application in constitutional law when a matter is decided almost always in the highest court of a land, as happened in Pakistan.
In Re the Reference by the Governor General (PLD 1955 FC 435), the Pakistani Federal Court quoted Cromwell as saying ‘[i]f nothing should be done but what is according to law, the throat of the nation might be cut while we send for someone to make the law.’ But Cromwell was aware of the danger of abuse of the doctrine. He stated in Parliament on 12 September 1654: “Necessity hath no law. Feigned necessities, imaginary necessities…are the greatest cozenage men can put upon the providence of God . . ..”
S. A. De Smith, having seen the doctrine being prostituted in Pakistan, stated in his Constitutional and Administrative Law (3d ed. 1977, p. 502) that the necessity must be proportionate to the evil that is to be averted and acceptance of the principle does not normally imply total abdication from judicial review or acquiescence in the supersession of the legal order.
This paper is about how the doctrine paved the way for the destruction of democracy in Pakistan, from whose experience Sri Lanka has much to learn. The immediate reason for writing this is the call from pro-government lawyers to emulate what happened in Pakistan. What is worse is the attempt at eulogizing Chief Justice Munir, who introduced the doctrine to Pakistan and who has rightly been labelled ‘the destroyer of democracy in Pakistan’.
Sri Lanka and India can be considered as the only two South Asian countries that have chosen and followed the democratic path since independence.
The Indian National Congress which led India’s freedom struggle had a very clear democratic vision from its very beginning. It can be said that the democratic outlook of the Congress had advanced further after Gandhi took over the leadership of the Congress. The Congress appeared strongly for democratic values and played an important role in socialising them. It had a Charter of Human Rights of its own as far back as 1936 when there was no organisation of the United Nations.
In a democratic sense, Sri Lanka’s independent movement did not reach such an advanced stage. Though some leaders of the independent movement of Sri Lanka had been educated in the West, they however, did not have an advanced liberal outlook. All the leaders of the independent movement except A.E. Gunasinha were so backward in their outlook that they opposed the proposal to grant universal suffrage.
From an ideological point of view, despite the leaders of Sri Lanka being so backward compared to their Indian counterparts, the country still chose the path of democracy notwithstanding these limitations and shortcomings.
Sri Lanka faced two military coups d’état and three armed insurrections in the interim, and none of them were able to change the democratic path that Sri Lanka had been pursuing. Both President J.R. Jayewardene and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who can be considered the two most powerful leaders that emerged in Sri Lanka since independence, attempted to establish a long-term one-party rule, but, in the final analysis, they failed to achieve their dream.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned Sunil Rathnayake in March. Rathnayake is a convicted war criminal who was on death row. He was convicted of killing eight Tamil civilians, including a five-year-old. Releasing him from prison is outrageous and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
AFP notes that the murdered “were killed as they returned to their bombed homes to salvage what was left of their belongings and their bodies were found buried in a cesspit near an army camp at Mirusuvil on the Jaffna peninsula.”
The depressing reality is that the Rathnayake pardon isn’t anomalous. It’s not particularly unexpected and there had been rumours this pardon was in the works. What was truly surprising is that Rathnayake actually got convicted in the first place.
A Fundamental Rights Violation Petition was filed on Tuesday 5 May on behalf of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, who is purportedly under custody on detention order.
The Petition was filed by senior Attorney-at-Law Gowry Shangary Thavarajah citing Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne, Director of CID SSP W. Thilakaratne, Chief Inspector Karunatilaka of the CID, OIC of the SIU Unit 3 Deepani Menike, OIC of the CID Mihindu Abeysinghe, as well as the Attorney General Dappula de Livera as Respondents.
Petitioner Gowry Shangary Thavarajah filed the petition upon her personal knowledge, from documents and information made available to her and from instructions.
She received instructions from the Hizbullah family, namely his Egyptian wife Mariam M. Khalifa and his father Neina Mohamed Hizbullah.
She states on instruction that the following transpired on or about 14 April 2020:
The JVP yesterday questioned how a Vote on Account for March-May 2020 has been included in the Pre-election Budgetary Position Report 2020, issued by the Finance Ministry under the Fiscal Management (Responsibility) Act, without Parliamentary approval
Former JVP Sunil Handunnetti said that the Report states that a Vote on Account for three months commencing from 6 March 2020 has been prepared, and questioned how this could have been done when Parliament was dissolved on 2 March, and there was no functioning Legislature to approve such a VoA..
“No one can prepare such a VoA and authorise the use of money from the Treasury without Parliamentary approval. This is illegal,” Handunnetti said at a press conference .
General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Ranjith Madduma Bandara filed a Fundamental Rights Petition challenging the purported 20 June Parliamentary Election.
The petition was filed through Dinesh Vidanapathirana citing Attorney General Dappula de Livera, Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, and Election Commission members N. J. Abeysekera and Ratnajeevan Hoole as Respondents.
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.
On 16 April, I heard that my former classmate Hejaaz Hisbullah had been arrested by the CID. As I learnt more about the questionable circumstances of his arrest, I have been struck by how little these questions seem to matter in various media and social-media circles. It appears that by virtue of his arrest and identity alone, Hejaaz is being pre-judged.
Hejaaz and I first met as five-year-olds. As the saying goes, we know each other ‘warts and all’. Small in stature, Hejaaz is a natural leader who cares deeply about people, community and principle. He was a fantastic sportsman, an articulate and sharp debater, a hard-working and diligent student, the co-editor of the college magazine and a much-respected school prefect. He had an impish smile and a healthy disregard for overbearing authority. He spoke his mind fearlessly, even to prefects and teachers.
Looking back at our childhood together, I recall many moments where Hejaaz displayed effortless courage, humour, solidarity and brilliance. Whether it was jumping into the fray as a classmate was about to be beaten up, carrying out an elaborate prank against an unsuspecting friend or having a quiet word with another for bullying younger students, Hejaaz was an influential and integral part of my childhood. We didn’t have the vocabulary for it then, but Hejaaz from a very young age, showed signs of growing up to be a man of principle, conviction and integrity.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu filed a Fundamental Rights application challenging the decision of the President to dissolve Parliament on 2 March 2020 and the decision of the Elections Commission to reschedule elections on 20 June 2020.
Petition states the Articles 70 and 33(2)(c) of the Constitution permit the President to dissolve Parliament prior to the completion of its five-year term, after the passage of four and a half years from its first sitting.
The President used this power to dissolve the Eighth Parliament on 2 March 2020 by Gazette Extraordinary no. 2165/8 and fix 25 April 2020 as the date for election of the Ninth Parliament, it states.
It points out that this was despite the fact that COVID-19 was spreading across the world, and Sri Lanka too was taking steps to combat it.
The declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, and its rapid spread resulted in the Election Commission making a decision to postpone the election. Thereafter, on 20 April 2020, the Commission issued Gazette Extraordinary no. 2172/3 fixing the election for 20 June 2020, it adds.
The Gazette by which the Eighth Parliament was dissolved fixed the date for the first meeting of the Ninth Parliament for 14 May 2020, it states.
It contends that while the said Gazette remains in place, a new date for the election of the Ninth Parliament cannot be fixed beyond 2 June 2020.
It maintains it is impossible to hold a free and fair election in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and that it would be difficult for election officers and voters to maintain social distancing during the election and the preparation for the same, which would increase the risk of the spread of the virus. As such there is a likelihood that elections could be further postponed beyond 20 June.
The lack of a functioning Parliament for more than three months undermines the sovereignty of the people and undermines the rule of law, it underlines.
It seeks the Supreme Court to declare that fundamental rights have been violated.
(Text of a letter sent by former Finance minister Mangala Samaraweera to the Secretary to the President, Dr.PB Jayasundara)
Dr. P.B. Jayasundara
Secretary to H.E. the President
Dear Dr. Jayasundara,
Regarding your reply to my letter to HE the President on 28 April 2020.
It is regrettable to note that your reply to my letter addressed to H.E. the President on April 28, 2020, requesting that Parliament be re-convened conditionally to resolve the crises constitutionally and to approve public expenditure does not address the pertinent issues mentioned in the letter but instead, refers to some other external matters of no consequence. It is, in fact, unbecoming of a senior public official of your stature to send a political reply with no basis with the objective and intention of defaming the past government to conceal facts from the people and mislead the public.
The Constitution is the supreme law of the country. Elected leaders of the country and public officials publicly pledge to uphold and defend the Constitution, based on the admirable concept that there can be no democratic governance in a lawless country. It is the Constitution that is supreme and not an individual or political party. In fact, Governments come into being as stipulated by the Constitution.
At present, Sri Lanka faces a crisis that exceeds the Constitution. Although the President issued an extraordinary gazette notification declaring the dissolution of Parliament, it has not been possible to hold parliamentary elections on the date specified therein. Also, it is not possible to convene the new Parliament within three months of dissolution i.e., by June 02, 2020, as stated in the same gazette notification.
In this context, as stated in your letter and as per the opinion of Constitutional experts, the President shall be authorized to issue and spend money from the Consolidated Fund only for three months from the date on which the new Parliament is summoned to meet.
Over 250,000 people have succumbed to Covid-19 as I write these words. If every death diminishes each one of us left alive, then we have indeed been reduced to minuscule dimensions. Yet our fears and sorrows are monumental. Before Covid-19, few of us had truly comprehended that death, indeed, is a great leveller.
When Portuguese billionaire and President of the Santander Bank Antonio Piera died on the 21st of April, his daughter observed, ‘we are a wealthy family, but my father passed away alone, suffocating, looking for something free, which is air … The money stayed at home.’ He was one among the 973 who died out of 24,505 infected in Portugal. The other 972 did not take anything with them either. They may not have had wealth, but like Piera they had to leave behind family, property, plans, joys of one kind or another and hopes. Material acquisition and the processes of acquisition have started to seem meaningless.
The virus has infected royalty and mendicant, doctor and patient, jailor and prisoner, capitalist and worker. Even if we do not directly attribute it to god, the natural order or some other supernatural frame, there is a lesson here about discrimination. What this means is that we are in a rare state in which the possibility of imminent death is shared by one and all.
Attorney General (AG) Dappula de Livera yesterday gave the go ahead to the Election Commission (EC) to conduct the Parliamentary Election according to the procedure established by law.
The AG’s response was sent in response to a letter sent by the AG yesterday seeking advice on whether a legal issue arises due to acceptance of nomination on 17, 18 and 19 March which were within the nomination period but were declared as special public holidays by two Gazette notifications due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Monday’s meeting convened, at Temple Trees, to discuss the future course of action as regards the country’s fight against COVID0-19, had badly exposed those who boycotted it, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said, yesterday.
Rajapaksa thanked the TNA for having attended the meeting to express its views on the difficulties faced by the Tamil people and made a meaningful contribution to the discussion on the anti-Covid-19 campaign.
“The TNA could attend the meeting, but the JVP and others in the Opposition did not want to come because they are not interested in making a contribution to the battle against coronaviurs. They do not want to find a solution. They are demanding the reconvening of Parliament not to find any solution but to seek political expediency.
A study by the Economist magazine has shown that Sri Lanka is one of the countries least able to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus induced world economic crisis. Out of 66 countries assessed, Sri Lanka came 61st in terms of its ability to handle the crisis without being economically debilitated and fared much worse than its South Asian neighbours. Bangladesh at 9th place, India at 18th and Pakistan at 43rd place all fared better than Sri Lanka. The human cost of the crisis is visible in media images of thousands of angry young workers from around the country stranded in the vicinity of the Katunayake free trade zone, many of them abandoned by their factory employers, unable to get back to their home villages due to the coronavirus travel restrictions.
The pathetic situation of the free trade zone workers is only one aspect of the crisis that has had an unimaginable impact on large numbers of other Sri Lankan whose livelihoods have become insecure just as in many other parts of the world. However, the governments of the more economically advanced countries have been able to provide substantial cash grants and other unemployment benefits to those whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted. Lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus are prevalent in almost all countries of the world and in many of them have governments been able to find the resources to sustain the living standards of their citizens. With its access to foreign assistance from the Asian Development Bank and China, Sri Lanka could give more to sustain the affected population.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is not among those countries whose governments have been prepared to adequately buffer their citizens against the economic devastation that the coronavirus has brought in its wake. The country seemed to be having success in containing the spread of the coronavirus, but this too has been thrown into doubt by the sudden spiking of coronavirus infections despite the long term lockdown and curfew. The low rates of infection reported in mid-March at the time parliament was prematurely dissolved gave rise to the possibility of general elections taking place as scheduled. The initial low infection rates that were reported may have been due to the low rate of testing taking place in the country, which led to underestimates of the numbers actually infected.
The Election Commission has announced that it shall conduct the General Election on 20 June. Over the media, politicians, journalists, and lawyer-politicians have defended that decision by providing inaccurate interpretations of certain constitutional provisions.
I do not claim infallibility, but the relevant provisions of the Constitution have been stated in such clear terms that their meaning should be obvious to all except those who view it through politically-tainted lenses.
The Constitution is the supreme law
The Constitution is our supreme law. It means that every other law should be read subject to the provisions of the Constitution. No legislative, executive or administrative act can override the Constitution. No power vested in any person or body by the Constitution can be exercised by any other person or body.
Ratnajeevan Hoole, a member of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka (EC), stirred many a discussion of the behaviour of a public servant in recent times due to the unprecedented nature of his published writings and interviews given to the newspapers. The President said that EC is not independent citing the behaviour of Hoole and many others are of the same view.
Hoole is from Nallur, Jaffna. His father was an Anglican priest and the mother was a lecturer of the Kopay Teacher Training College. His wife is a fellow academic, and they have three daughters and one son. His brothers Rajan and Paul are PhD holders. Rajan was a co-author of ‘Broken Palmyra,’ which equally criticised the atrocities of both LTTE and the State. His brother Noel is the Head of the Technical College, Vaddukoddai. His sister is in New Zealand and he lost two of his brothers.
He graduated from University of Moratuwa with a BSc in electrical engineering. He holds a PhD in electromagnetic field computation from Carnegie Mellon University, USA and a DSc in computational electromagnetics from the University of London (N.M. Perera also had a PhD and a DSc). He was working in Singapore, Canada and USA and came back to Sri Lanka in 1999.
He was appointed Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna By President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. However, he could not take up the position due to death threats of the LTTE. He went back to USA and came back in 2010 after the defeat of LTTE.
(Text of a Media Statement Issued by the Tamil National Alliance(TNA)
3rd May 2020
LEADER TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE (TNA)
STATEMENT – TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE
1. An appeal was made by the Tamil National Alliance and other political parties to His Excellency the President for the dissolved Parliament to be reconvened. The response to this request thus far has been negative.
2. In this background the Hon. Prime Minister has invited all Members of the dissolved Parliament to a meeting at Temple Trees on Monday the 4th.
Media reports have confirmed that the Sri Lankan defence ministry has stationed thousands of soldiers in up to 16 schools in Colombo and in other areas, including the North and Central provinces. The soldiers were dispatched to Colombo on Monday, during the all-island curfew.
This week M. M. Ratnayake, an additional secretary to the education ministry secretary, revealed that the schools would “serve as lodging for the Armed Force personnel who are deployed for duty from distant areas.” The comments were in response to a Facebook post by Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, the education minister in the previous United National Party (UNP)-led government, who said the schools are to be used as quarantine centres.
Yesterday, retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne, the current defence ministry secretary, also denied schools were being used as quarantine centres. There was a huge influx of soldiers, he said, because they had been recalled from leave and the armed forces needed additional camps to accommodate them. Gunaratne did not explain why most of the soldiers were dispatched back to Colombo.
Last week the army deployed its Quick Action Battalion to bolster existing security force operations at Colombo’s main entry points. The battalion was reportedly needed to prevent coronavirus victims entering the capital.
Despite Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s claims that the pandemic is under control and conditions are emerging to “reopen the economy,” Sri Lanka is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections.
The government is deliberately carrying out a small number of tests so as to produce lower infection rates and downplay the risk posed by the pandemic. Sri Lankan medical experts, citing the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) call for mass testing, have insisted the government should increase the number of daily tests to 5,000 at least. Only on Monday the Director of Health, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, boasted of having carried out 1,500 tests that day.
In the war-torn Northern Province, as in other parts of Sri Lanka, tests are carried out inadequately while quarantine centers are being maintained in dangerous conditions. As a result of the utterly insufficient number of tests, currently only 18 people have been identified to have COVID-19; more than 300 are being observed in quarantine centers.
During the 30 year bloody communal war waged in the north and east against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by successive Sri Lankan governments, these region’s rudimentary health infrastructure was almost destroyed. Since the end of war in May 2009, some hospitals have been improvised, including the Jaffna Teaching Hospital, the premier hospital in Jaffna district.
(Text of a MEDIA RELEASE Issued by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa Under the Heading “Politicking in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis”)
The President, the government and the state apparatus have focused their entire attention on combating Covid-19. The way in which the people have benefited from this, is clearly apparent. Even in the midst of this national crisis and global disaster we see the unpleasant sight of the political opposition in this country vociferously demanding that the dissolved Parliament be reconvened and asserting that after the 30th of April, the President has no legal right to allocate funds for the maintenance of government services without the approval of the old parliament. They have even issued a threat to the effect that unless Parliament is reconvened, the President and all of us in the government run the risk of the loss of our civic rights and the confiscation of our property.
Parliament was dissolved at the beginning of March when there were no Coronavirus patients in the country. After the first Corona virus patient was found one and a half weeks later, the Elections Commission postponed the election till the 20th of June. The Elections Commission has already announced that the election could be postponed further depending on the advice of the medical authorities. The Elections Commission will hold the election at a suitable time in accordance with the powers vested in them. The opposition’s concern obviously is that if the election is held in a situation where the anti-Coronavirus campaign in Sri Lanka has shown much better results than in most other countries, they would be placed at a serious disadvantage. Hence we see that the opposition’s present efforts are aimed at getting the old Parliament reconvened and using their majority in Parliament to block government finances, thereby sabotaging the anti-Coronavirus campign in order to bring the government into disrepute before the election.
(Text of a Letter Written By Ex-Parliamentarian M.A.Sumanthiran PC to the Chairperson and Other Membes of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka)
3rd May 2020
The Chairperson and other members of The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka,
To: Madam Chairperson and other members,
Imposition of “curfew”
I write this in the public interest.
However, at the outset I must declare my “interest” in a related matter. I appear as Counsel in the Nugegoda Magistrate’s Court in Case No: B/1454/20 for Mr Ranjan Ramanayake, former Member of Parliament. In the course of my submissions made to court on 20th April 2020, I took up the position that no curfew has been declared in the country in terms of any applicable law. Having recorded my submission in this regard and while granting bail to my client, the learned Magistrate very specifically held that he was not making a determination as to the legality of the curfew at this point in time. It is pertinent to note that my client has not been accused of violating any curfew.
An island-wide “curfew” was declared from 6pm on 20th March 2020 and announced to the country by the President’s Media Division (PMD), which has virtually been in force up to now with variations in certain districts and “curfew” being “lifted” and “re-imposed” at different times in different places.
Some members of the SLPP have expressed the fear that if the Parliament is reconvened as demanded by the opposition, the latter which has the majority in Parliament could present an impeachment motion against the President. Going by the behavior of the opposition, such fears may not be unfounded and it could be that the opposition does harbor hopes of being able to present an impeachment motion against the President if Parliament is reconvened. The requirements to carry through to a successful conclusion an impeachment motion against a President are heavy. So much so that there is absolutely no chance of such an attempt succeeding. However, there may be some in the opposition who think that by presenting an impeachment motion against the President, the dissolution of the reconvened Parliament can be blocked at least for a while.
Before the 19th Amendment, our Constitution had Article 70(1)(c) which stated that the President shall not dissolve Parliament after the Speaker has entertained a resolution to impeach the President. However, Article 70(1)(c) no longer exists in the Constitution after the 19th Amendment. Hence the President can dissolve Parliament even after an impeachment motion has been entertained by the Speaker in the reconvened Parliament – if such a reconvening takes palce.
Identification of more than two hundred navymen attached to the Welisara navy camp as superspreaders of the coronavirus after being allowed to go to their villages on leave without first being tested, shows the fragility of that vicious ‘us vs them’ dichotomy in no uncertain terms.
From heroes to pariahs
Abruptly, the dynamic of social interaction changed overnight. Instead of paens of praise with which the South fetes the tri-services, they began to be treated like untouchables. So much so that Sri Lanka’s Department of Government Information and the Ministry of Defence had to issue pleas not to discriminate service personnel as carriers of the virus. Regardless, navymen turned from heroes to pariahs in a twinkling of an eye as it were. In some areas, their family members were attacked by villagers fearing that they were harbouring the virus. In Anuradhapura and Kurunegala, residents imposed their own lockdowns with traders refusing to open up their shutters and lawyers refusing to go to court.
Indeed, the sheer absurdity of this begs the imagination. Is this behaviour a hallmark of less developed mindsets, despite gleeful cackling about Sri Lanka’s two thousand five hundred years of unbroken recorded history? In what scientific or commonsensical context is infection of the virus equalised to shameful, stigmatizing behaviour? Certainly some anchors on private electronic media stations appear to be infected with this inferior mindset as they stigmatized Muslims as virus carriers. This was while their stations carried out highly publicised ‘charity’ campaigns, disregarding the fact that racism weighed far heavier to the bad in the scales than a few bags of rice or grains.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has raised alarm about a spate of recent arrests of persons for statements they had made on social media, particularly about the spread of COVID-19.
There are at least eight recorded cases, all before the Magistrate’s Court of Colombo, the HRCSL told the Sunday Times. The alleged offences include speculating about a COVID-19 affected childbirth at a private hospital; claims that Muslims are being subjected to an “ideological warfare”; the spreading of “false” information that the virus has killed ten people; and claims that the Kotelawala University Hospital is reserved for VIPs.
One person was detained for posting a video on Facebook saying police actions to curb the spread of COVID-19 must be stopped and that religious observances should be permitted to overcome the virus. Another was taken in for, in a Facebook comment, insulting the founders and followers of a particular religion and publishing disfigured pictures of those founders.
The Election Commission has sought an opinion from the Attorney General on the implications of the Government declaring special public holidays during the Parliamentary elections nomination period which ended on March 19.
Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya told a meeting of political party representatives yesterday that the EC was awaiting a response from the AG’s Department.
In the world’s four-month battle against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one reality remains unchanged. It has been an unequal fight with a tiny, but significantly stronger and resilient opponent.
On the frontline are health workers, with the military aiding them in Sri Lanka’s case, toiling day and night in stifling full body suits, just so someone can breathe a little more and live. Given that no country was prepared for this, their best efforts are proving inadequate. Like everywhere else, Sri Lanka too is dealing with many gaps — some new and others owing to the many fractures in society that the pre-COVID-19 world was largely indifferent to. Identifying a few immediate needs, Sri Lanka’s business sector has been pitching in.
(Text of a Media Statement Issued by Speaker of Dissolved Parliamemt Karu Jayasuriya)
Recently, a majority of Opposition MPs of the dissolved Parliament requested from H.E. President to reconvene the Parliament to avert a constitutional crisis, in doing so, they pledged to fully support the government to overcome the pandemic, , in the event of it being reconvened.
In a recent twitter message I expressed my view that the said development was a timely democratic step that involved all stakeholders to reach a consensus in the current situation.
This is May Day, when many years ago there were thousands on the streets in Mai Dina Pelapaali, loudly singing “Saadukin Pelanavun – Dan ithin negitiyav” – the LSSP’s revolutionary theme song, with focus on the hunger of the people.
There are no May Day processions or rallies, today (01 May), with the spread of Covid-19 bringing a ban on all public movements, which are not possible with the physical distancing, emerging as a new social order, at least till a vaccine is available to fight the coronavirus.
But ‘Saadukin Pelanavun’ – those who are suffering and distressed by hunger, are a rising reality today, bringing a new May Day message to the Corvid-19 affected people. The distribution of rice and vegetables as well as the Rs. 5,000 state give-away has all become a political bonus. Hunger is certainly increasing with the lack of employment, absence of earnings, and with a more bleak future for those who will lose employment in the coming months.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday replied to a letter sent to him by former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera in which the latter had made a request for the resummoning of Parliament to conditionally resolve crises and to approve public expenditure.
In the reply to Samaraweera sent through his Secretary P.B. Jayasundera, the President said the letter contained many factual inaccuracies and gave a detailed answer to the questions raised by the former Minister.
The President also said that from 2015 to 2019, both Samaraweera and the Finance Minister before him had presented a number of supplementary estimates each year whilst failing to ensure the legality of relevant legislation related to budget proposals in Parliament.
Amid a profound economic and political crisis, Sri Lanka’s minority government has taken a series of sinister, authoritarian steps in conjunction with the military that indicate a coup d’état could be in preparation.
At the very least, the government is using the COVID-19 pandemic as the pretext to mount a power grab, insert the military even more fully into the running of the state, and run roughshod over working people’s democratic rights—all in flagrant violation of democratic-constitutional norms.
In so doing, President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his prime minister and brother, the former President Mahinda Rajapakse, are not simply accruing more power at the expense of their bourgeois opponents. Their real and principal target is the working class.
The “lockdown”, as the principal way to contain the coronavirus pandemic, appears to be fraying at the edges now. Even as governments are extending the lockdown, driven by the advice of doctors and public health professionals, they cannot but take into account the growing opposition to it, at least in its present form.
The top leadership in some countries like Sri Lanka know the need of the people to get on with their lives for their own survival and for the survival of their country. The Sri Lankan government is therefore cautiously and selectively relaxing the lockdown regimen. This appears to be working.
There are those who openly say that the lockdown will do more harm than good, given its grave economic implications right across any country’s sectoral and social spectrum. Agitations against the lockdown have taken place in about 25 States in the United States. In the UK, some conservative politicians have come out against it. In India, there have been violent resistance to being tested for COVID 19 as nobody wants to be quarantined and deprived of a livelihood. The practice of sealing off whole areas is causing inconvenience to people, the majority of whom are perfectly healthy.
Under pressure from President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his caretaker cabinet, the Election Commissioner (EC) announced last week that Sri Lanka’s postponed general election would be held on June 20. Rajapakse’s agitation for a quick election takes place amid surging coronavirus infections in Sri Lanka and internationally.
Anyone aware of Rajapakse’s authoritarian actions—past and present—knows that his early election had nothing to do with defending democratic rights.
On March 2, Rajapakse used his executive powers to dissolve parliament, six months before its official term ended, and announced a general election for April 25 with the deadline for candidate nominations on March 19.
In the face of mounting concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the Election Commission decided to postpone the election date indefinitely. Rajapakse, however, did not implement a nationwide coronavirus lockdown until a day after candidate nominations had been submitted.
Rajapakse’s demand that the election be held as early as possible is bound with his authoritarian agenda. Since his election as president last November he has repeatedly declared that he wants a two-thirds parliamentary majority in order to scrap the 19th constitutional amendment and other legal restrictions to his presidential executive powers.
For Irrfan, who died in Mumbai on Wednesday at the age of 53, life had only just begun.
After years of slaving away in television shows and a string of critically acclaimed but little seen films in the 1990s, the actor had entered the Bollywood big league in the early 2000s. He was one of India’s most well-known exports to Hollywood. Films such as Haasil, Maqbool, Talvar, Paan Singh Tomar, The Lunchbox, Piku and The Warrior owe as much to this late-bloomer as to their makers.
Irrfan had many more emotions and experiences to share with his fans. Had he not been cut down by poor health, his would have been one of the richest careers in Hindi cinema.
Irrfan had been diagnosed in March 2018 with a neuroendocrine tumour, and had spent several months being treated in the United Kingdom. He had returned to India in 2020, and was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai for a colon infection earlier this week. He is survived by his wife, television writer and producer Sutapa Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan. His mother, Saeeda Begum, had died in Jaipur on April 25 at the age of 86.
According to a note shared by his publicist on behalf of the family, “It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace.”
In March 2018, Irrfan made his medical condition public with a bolt-from-the-blue tweet. Two productions that had been previously filmed followed the announcement, Blackmail and Karwaan. Irrfan managed to headline another movie in 2020, Angrezi Medium. It was the last Bollywood release before India went into a lockdown in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
There should be a normalcy in the country with the novel coronavirus COVID-19 eliminated to a substantial level by at least 15 May, if the General Election is to be held on 20 June, Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said yesterday.
“A minimum period of five weeks is required for candidates to campaign for the election, which would mean that the country should be free of COVID-19 by at least 15 May, so that a free, fair, transparent and credible election can be held,” Deshapriya told the Daily FT.
(Text of a Joint Statement signed by Opposition Party Leaders of the UNP, SJB,TNA,SLMC, ACMC, TPA and JHU pledging “Responsible Cooperation ” to the President and Government if Parliament Dissolution is Revoked and Parliament Re-convened in the best interests of the Country and all her people)
We, the undersigned political parties and formations, representing the majority Members of Parliament, who were members of the Opposition in Parliament when it was dissolved on 2nd March 2020 wish to state as follows:
1. Against the backdrop of a public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps taken by governments to control it, a range of new challenges have emerged in Sri Lanka as well. Regrettably, the optimism that prevailed in our country until a few days ago that the spread of the virus could be managed is now receding.If further spreading of the pandemic is not decisively halted in the coming few weeks, the country will face the risk of the prevailing public health crisis being compounded by crisis situations in the economic, social, and political spheres too.
2. We are concerned that several hundreds have been infected; several thousands have lost their livelihood. Frontline health workers are putting their best efforts to protect us all risking their own safety. Their efforts should not go in vain because of our political decisions.
June 20th 2020 is the new D-day for Sri Lanka’s postponed parliamentary elections. The three – member election commission that met in Colombo on April 20 has decided that fresh elections to the now dissolved parliament could be held on June 20. A notification to this effect has been duly gazetted. The parliamentary poll earlier scheduled for April 25 this year was put off indefinitely by the Election commission(EC) due to the spread of the Covid -19 pandemic in the Island . Sri Lanka is yet to come out of the coronavirus woods but the Election commission in its wisdom has now scheduled polls for June 20.
The EC comprising former Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya, retired Legal Draftsman Nalin Abeyesekera PC and Ex-Jaffna University vice-chancellor Dr.Ratnajeevan Hoole met in Colombo on Monday April 20th. Earlier it was doubtful whether Dr. Hoole residing in Jaffna would be able to make it to Colombo on time. There were also media reports suggesting that the Election Commission itself was hopelessly divided on the issue of holding an early election. It is learnt that there was much discussion and debate among EC members on the matter. Many dates were proposed and rejected. Finally the EC arrived a decision by consensus and announced the June 20 date.
Prior to the Intra- EC confabulations, the election commission chaired by Mahinda Deshapriya met top officials of the health sector, police, army, postal services, government printer and other stakeholders to review the covid-19 situation and decide when polls could be held.Another meeting was held with all district secretaries who would be acting as the district returning officers in the election.
On April 21st the Election Commission met representatives from all registered political parties . Political parties were asked to send only two representatives each due to Covid -19 threat. Since Ratnajeevan Hoole had returned to Jaffna only Mahinda Deshapriya and Nalin Abeyesekera represented the EC at the discussions with political parties. The discussions were in two segments with one group of parties in the morning and another in the afternoon. The political parties protested strongly at not being consulted prior to the announcement being made. They also raised objections to an election being held at a time when the corona pandemic had still not been brought under control. They pointed out that campaigning for elections would aggravate the risk and emphasised the safety of the people. EC chairman Deshapriya said that he too was concerned about public health and safety. The EC Chairman said that the June 20 date was by no means final. He said that the situation would be reviewed on May 4th. If the health situation in the country was taking a turn for the worse the June 20th date would be postponed he assured.
President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa
In what appears to be a very, very curious coincidence the new election date of June 20 also happens to be the birthday of President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Gota would be celebrating his 71st birthday on June 20. Some have commented in lighter vein that June 20 being fixed by the EC was a birthday present to the president. They point out that the presidential election held last year was on Nov 16 and that after winning the poll, Gota was sworn in as President on Nov 18. This was the birthday of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Interestingly enough this point was raised by ACMC Leader Rishad Bathiudeen at the EC Meeting. When the former minister accused the EC of favouring Gota by fixing the date on June 20, EC chairman responded sternly and dismissed Rishad’s charges vehemently. He explained that the new date was finalised to provide eight weeks time from the old date of April 25. Some have pointed out that Contrary to the accusation of the June 20 date being favourable to the Govt , the reality was that the new date in mid-june may actually causes fresh problems. This writer however suspects a mischievous whim at play on the part of the EC in picking June 20. At least two of the EC Members have displayed an impish streak at times.
Obviously it is too early to predict whether the elections would take place wholly or in parts because of the fickle fluctuations of the Covid-19 spread. There are many who doubt whether the health situation would be conducive for an election even on June 20.Even though a free and fair poll to elect a new parliament would be most welcome, it is the health and safety of the people that is of paramount importance. Hence the Election date has to be predicated on that basic premise and could be subject to a change if circumstances warrant it. The EC Chairman himself has confirmed that the situation would be reviewed on May 4th and if health circumstances necessitate it the June 20 date could be postponed again.
Given what we know about the new cases detected in the past two weeks, it was no longer justifiable to relax COVID control measures on Monday (April 27), including lifting the curfew in Colombo. This is a monumental and totally avoidable policy failure and an unmitigated fiasco. If accountability meant anything in this country, there would have been consequences for those involved in setting the health response. And to be absolutely clear, I do not mean the President, who has so far only acted in good faith on the advice he has been given.
When the government imposed an island-wide curfew on the evening of March 20, we only had 72 cases. Until that point, almost all were people who had acquired the infection overseas and returned before we stopped all incoming flights on March 19. There were just a dozen other cases of local transmission, involving people in the community who had been infected directly or indirectly by a local arrival or foreign tourist.
The curfew should have had three clear objectives:
Last year, suffering and death struck with the arrival of Easter, to plunge us back into Good Friday. Thousands who lost loved ones and limbs were shattered by this senseless violence. Many of them still continue in search of Easter life, submerged in the agony and questions of Good Friday.
This year we kept Easter, in the inescapable atmosphere of Good Friday. As deaths caused by the virus pile up world-wide, bodies of loved ones are disposed of clinically, governments enforce unprecedented measures to segregate individuals and communities and struggle to keep their economies afloat at the same time, public health systems and medical personnel reach breaking point, and our own nation faces up to grim health, economic and political uncertainties, the lesson is clear.
It is no coincidence that the increasingly not-so-insidious growth of Sri Lanka’s anti-democracy virus, first reflected on in these column spaces last month, has kept apace with the exponential rise of coronavirus infected individuals in the last ten days.
As transparency diminishes, so does accountability. This is so in relation to pandemic controls of testing, isolating and containing as much as in making sure that state officers act in accordance with the law in arresting people or in addressing the hunger of the poor.
Acts of dubious legality
That column (Covid 19 and Sri Lanka’s anti-democracy virus, March 15th 2020) was in the last printed edition of this newspaper before an island-wide curfew, of dubious legality but endured due to the extraordinary threat facing the nation, compelled the presses to still their roar. Along with that silencing, other aspects of our repressed but still defiant resistance movement also lapsed into silence.
To employ a useful oxymoron, that silence was so deafening that law enforcement officers felt emboldened enough, as I remarked last week, to arrest an attorney-at-law in circumstances that even a full week later, give rise to grave concerns.
The Highways Ministry and the Road Development Authority (RDA) are rushing moves to award a multibillion rupee contract for the fourth section of the Central Expressway Project (CEP IV) from Kurunegala to Dambulla.
Talks between the Government and an identified contractor–the British consultancy firm Roughton–have been going on amidst the protracted curfew and growing COVID-19 pandemic, authoritative sources said. They did not wish to be named.
The Cabinet has granted approval to start talks on the unsolicited proposal which will be financed by a loan. The project was not advertised for bids.
Therefore, there is no open tender for what has been termed an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract.
Roughton is expected to partner with two local building contractors, who are yet to be announced. The project was once valued at Rs 161.61bn, excluding tax.
Highways Ministry Secretary R.W.R. Pemasiri confirmed that Roughton was the named party. The company was the consultant for a section of the Southern Expressway that was financed by the Asian Development Bank.
The coronavirus pandemic has had significant consequences on almost every socio-political and economical aspects of mankind, and naturally, people’s health and security came to the forefront and the impact on the entertainment industry, of course, has been an area of least concern and has not been figured at the forefront of national or international levels of concern.
In this context, due to the pandemic, no industry perhaps, has been damaged as quickly as well as widely as the entertainment business, particularly, the cinema industry. Proving this fact, in Sri Lanka, the first industry to shutdown in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak was the film theatre industry and the cultural events which had been organised by then. Although, in Sri Lanka film theatres were not one of the thriving industries even in the pre-corona world, the global situation is quite the contrary. Analysts estimate that the virus has already cost the global box office as much as $5 billion, mainly due to theatre closures in China (the world’s second biggest film market, behind only the US), but also in Japan, South Korea, Italy, and France.
The film industry is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic because of its 100 per cent people driven process and from the beginning to the end it requires that large numbers of people huddle together in small spaces. Also, it is a truly global industry, where most of the production companies and studios have offices and film sets in several countries and they often require employees to travel between them frequently.
(The writer is attached to the Department of Community and Family Medicine, University of Jaffna, and is a member of the Public Health Writers’ Collective)
In responding to epidemics, states are compelled to resort to restrictive measures to contain the spread of infection, including quarantine and isolation procedures, travel bans, lockdowns, and curfews. With such restrictions on movement, draconian measures are often swiftly implemented as a subdued citizenry remains compliant, in support of national efforts to combat an unknown ‘enemy.’
In Sri Lanka, we are seeing strict censorship alongside the fast and furious implementation of policies and measures that would otherwise have faced widespread protest and dissension.
Restrictions on free speech are detrimental to public health efforts. Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower who succumbed to coronavirus in February, is now deemed a martyr in China for having alerted colleagues about the novel coronavirus through social media. Instead of responding appropriately to contain the spread of the virus, Chinese authorities interrogated the doctor on the grounds of spreading fake news and silenced him, in effect, delaying its response to the epidemic.
Similarly, a number of healthcare workers in the United States have been fired after speaking out about their risky work conditions.
In Sri Lanka, there seems to be substantial self-censorship within the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 control program. Apart from the numbers reported by the Epidemiology Unit, we do not know on what basis decisions are being made to quarantine communities, or to extend (and lift) curfews. We do not know who is involved in making these decisions. There are concerns that the military is overriding the Ministry of Health’s authority in such matters.
The College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) on Friday submitted a scientific exit strategy to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the COVID-19 affected Colombo Municipality area, which the most densely populated and economically important area in the island nation.
Colombo City Profile:
Colombo city is the economic hub of the country. It is the most populous city in Sri Lanka, with 650,000 –750,000 people living within the city limits. This is also added with a 500,000 daily floating population. People of Colombo City are from a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural background, representing a mix of several ethnic groups, mainly Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Moor.The City covers an area of 37 sq. km divided into six Districts. The Districts are further divided into 47 Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) Wards for its administrative purpose.
District 1 Colombo North; 2. District 2A Colombo Central; 3. District 2B Colombo Central; 4. District 3 Borella; 5. District 4 Colombo East; 6. District 5 Colombo West.
The latest coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) data as per 24th April 2020 indicate that 91 out of 334 confirmed cases are from the Municipality area. Considering the uniqueness of Colombo as the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and the urgency in establishing normalcy, an exit strategy unique to Colombo Municipality area is indispensable.
However, at the same time, the fact that Colombo Municipality area is the worst-hit geographical area due to COVID-19 epidemic should be taken into consideration.
The key objectives are; 1. Maintaining a low case load; 2. Returning to near normal public life; 3. Economic recovery.
June 20 is the new date for the general election. But, the election actually begins four or five weeks before that. Are we ready for an election from, say May 23? That is the corona puzzle our Health and Medical authorities will have to solve. Elections in Sri Lanka are not confined to voting on the polling day. It is a trajectory of political activity, often corrupt, divisive and with little importance to the truth. Knowing what elections are, do we in fact need any election of our prevailing type on June 20 or any other day?
We are caught in a political virus of the type that threatens Democracy. Covid-19, if allowed to spread, as some of our political leaders wish to, we could lose many more Sri Lankan lives, mainly among the elderly, bringing sorrow and hardship to families. The bigger danger is that the manipulation of Covid-19 by the political forces in and out of power could really wipe out the Democracy we have.
Are we ready for the wiping out of the Electoral Democracy we have? It is a Democracy, so known because of regular elections, which are hugely corrupt, take strides in dividing the people on religion, ethnicity and caste too, offer no serious solutions to the economic problems of the country and society, and ensure enormous benefits to the elected to enjoy their parliamentary privileges, financial, service and luxury vehicle entitlements, and political birthrights to their children?
“Tackling a social calamity is not like fighting a war… Rather than muzzling the media and threatening dissenters with punitive measures (and remaining politically unchallenged), governance can be greatly helped by informed public discussion” – Amartya Sen (Listening as Governance)
A year has gone by since the Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka. Innocent blood was shed by a group of radicalised Lankan Muslims pledging allegiance to the IS. That barbaric bombing – and its fear-filled aftermath – shaped the year that followed. Arguably its most significant progeny was the landslide presidential victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The first anniversary of the massacre was commemorated in the midst of another calamity, a pandemic that has caused more deaths globally than any terrorist attack. The nature of the pandemic should have caused some papering over of the fissures in Lankan polity and society; after all, viruses are no respecters of ethno-religious or political affiliations. Yet the opposite has happened.
The pandemic, instead of uniting Lankans against a common threat, has heightened our divisions. The narrative of the pandemic has become interwoven with pre-existing narratives of ethno-religious fractions and enmities, creating a seamless whole of us vs. them, of innocent victims being targeted by evil carriers of the virus.
This divisive misrepresentation of a common and natural threat as ethno-religiously motivated enemy action is no accident. It is the result of a conscious effort by the ruling party to use the pandemic to advance its authoritarian political agenda via a parliamentary election that is fatally infected with the anti-democratic virus.
The SAARC Secretariat should play an active role in the region’s response to COVID-19, along with “someone in-charge”, according to Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“I don’t know if it can be handled from Kathmandu alone. If you can, well and good. But you may need another city. It can be Bengaluru, Colombo, any city,” he said on Friday.
“This is a good time for a regional cooperation programme. This is a global pandemic without a global leadership. Maybe the region can’t provide leadership for all. But the first virtual meeting of SAARC leaders was good, looking at the background and the problems that are there.”
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Well before the COVID-19 crisis hit us, you have been an advocate of greater regional cooperation. How can it help at such a time?
You see, this is a good time for a regional cooperation programme. This is a global pandemic without a global leadership. Maybe the region can’t provide leadership for all. But the first virtual meeting of SAARC leaders was good, looking at the background and the problems that are there.
We must treat this as a humanitarian issue and come up with a regional response. Maybe one or two countries, for instance India and one other, could put up a proposal, which then can be looked at by others, and possibly amended. Let us all work together. We [Sri Lanka], for instance have a good public health system. So has Kerala. We can work together on that.
The 20 June election may be the last chance to keep President Gotabaya Rajapaksa safely anchored to the Parliament and the SLPP; lodged within the electoral democratic mainstream, its institutional milieu, mechanisms, processes and political culture—and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to know it.
Block that opening, kick the electoral can much further down the road and that last chance goes with it. This is not the time for prissy proceduralism and legalistic literalism, but for a sure grasp of the intersecting realities of politics, power and history, or liberal legalism will be brushed aside by executive ‘decisionism’.
All the legalistic-constitutionalist points made by liberal critics may be true and for the most part are, but these are also irrelevant, because the real-world question is what if the Executive ignores all the “simply can’t do” points they make and simply does them? It is not that his action will be cost-free over the longer term, but who or what is going to stop the directly-elected Executive and Commander-in Chief and the implementation of his decision, how, and with what?
Once in a lifetime, a country faces a crisis so unique that the ordinary rules of politics should not apply. We expect politicians – political animals by nature – to act in ways that are antithetical to their interests. The COVID-19 pandemic is such a crisis, and Sri Lanka’s politicians have a choice: to opportunistically maximise political gains, or to selflessly put country before politics.
A unique dilemma
Sri Lanka’s elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a serious dilemma. On the one hand, his mandate is to achieve results. Yet his Government only has a minority share of the seats in Parliament.
The current Government cannot perpetually function on a limited budget. The Constitution clearly vests power over public finance in Parliament. Therefore, the Executive branch headed by the President would need a Legislature to authorise a new budget.
It seems politically acceptable for a president heading a minority government to call an election at the earliest given opportunity to form a stable government. President Rajapaksa has opted for this route, and many other politicians in his place would have done the same.
On the other hand, as the elected representative of the people, President Rajapaksa is bound by the provisions of Sri Lanka’s Constitution. His actions must always comply with the law.
(This article is summarized by Theodore Warnakulasuriya from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. His latest book is Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times; Hodder & Stoughton. The main article was found in Tablet magazine from London.)
A former Chief Rabbi argues in his latest book that if we are to repair an aggressive society we have to restore the mutuality, compassion and grace that the Hebrew Bible sees as a lasting ideal. ‘The coronavirus is going to test all our capacity to work for the benefit of others,’ .‘Selfishness is not going to protect us’
‘ We will have to rebuild families and communities and voluntary organisations’. IT WOULD BE easy to be pessimistic about the future of Western liberal democracies. The loss of the idea of society as a moral community began as the rarefied vision of intellectuals in the second half of the nineteenth century, followed from the 1930s onward by existentialists and emotivists who denied that there was a morality beyond the self, leading the liberal revolution of the 1960s and the economic revolution of the 1980s. They were followed by the fragmentation of culture and communication brought about by computers, the internet, smartphones and social media.
That is where we are today: often lonely, confused, disillusioned and mistrustful, living in societies divided into non-communicating groups, each of which believes that it is exploited, abused or threatened by others. From this comes a politics of anger that can easily lead to populism and the search for the strong leader who will somehow make the problems go away, but often makes them worse.
A former Member of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) as a public interest litigation filed a Fundamental Right violation petition contesting the Presidential clemency granted to the army officer who has been convicted for the massacre at Mirusuvil in the Jaffna Peninsula.
Relatives of the deceased also filed a Petition through their Attorney-at-Law Kesavan Sajanthan while the Centre for Policy Alternative and its Executive-Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu too have filed a separate petition.
Petitioner Ms Ambika Satkunanathan former commissioner of SLHRC filed her petition to ensure that the power of the Executive to pardon persons is done in a transparent and fair manner, according to objective standards, and the existing gaps and shortcomings are addressed. She states however that the moratorium on the death penalty in Sri Lanka should continue. She cited Attorney General, the convict Rathnayake Mudiyanselage Sunil Ratnayake, the Commissioner General of Prisons, Nimal Siripala de Silva who is the Minister of Justice, Human Rights & Legal Reforms, Secretary to the President and the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses as Respondents.
* People MUST Go Out as well as Stay at Home!Not just Stay at home only.
* No election can be held while exercising ‘Social Distancing’. Electioneering is the very anti-thesis of social distancing.
* An election held before the virus is completely eradicated, will only heighten the risk of a fresh outbreak.
* The curfews that are being declared presently are not legally valid.
* The situation in the North and the East is precarious at the moment. Some people are near starvation.
* The Treasury Secretary has opened himself to action against him for violating the Constitution!
* The best way forward in this situation is for the President to withdraw the Gazette dated 2nd March 2020 dissolving Parliament.
Former Jaffna District Parliamentarian and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran PC engaged in an informative conversation on April 1st and 2nd with D.B. S.Jeyaraj for the “Daily Mirror” newspaper on topics of current importance such as the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic, postponement of elections, imperative need to re-convene Parliament ,legal validity of curfews being enforced, urgent necessity for drafting new laws and the refusal by Governors to let Local authorities in the North and East utilise funds to help affected people.
The entire world is undergoing a severe health threat and facing a severe crisis due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sri Lanka too is experiencing this “Corona Effect”. So far the Govt and authorities seem to be tackling the issue reasonably well. However difficult problems are emerging. On the one hand strict measures like Lockdowns, prolonged curfews and restriction of movement are needed to combat and contain the spread of the virus. At the same time this causes hardship particularly to the underprivileged and elderly people. Daily wage earners and self-employed persons are deprived of income. Moreover the economy is drastically affected. There is a cash crunch. Production in agriculture,plantations, industries and fisheries sectors is virtually at a standstill. What is your assessment of the current situation?
I think the slogan, “Flatten the Curve” explains this the best. The success in containing this virus is said to be keeping the number of those infected at any particular time to a minimum so that the health system can cope. If you look at the demonstration graph, it looks as if, either way the number of infected persons will be the same, except that if we flatten the curve we can reduce fatalities. It also means that the time taken to eradicate the virus will be longer. If we are going to stretch the time to deal with this issue in order to “successfully contain it”, then we must necessarily keep the economy going at a rate which can feed the people and keep them healthy. That would mean that all economic activity in relation to food production, distribution, medicines, medical services for all other ailments, banking, insurance and a host of other sectors must continue to function.
Sri Lanka’s Election Commission has set the country’s parliamentary election for June 20, after it postponed the April 25 polls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sri Lanka has reported 309 coronavirus cases and seven deaths so far. A total of 33 infections were detected on Monday, the highest number to be recorded on a single day, prompting authorities to move 1,010 people from a working class neighbourhood in Colombo to quarantine.
“We are controlling the spread of the virus and increasing testing rates too. But it’s difficult for anybody to say when the pandemic will end,” Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Public Health, told The Hindu on Tuesday.
According to him, Sri Lanka conducted 695 tests on Monday. “We want to increase it to 1,000 a day soon.”
Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga has been named the greatest bowler in Indian Premier League (IPL) history by Star Sports experts Dean Jones, Mathew Hayden, Aakash Chopra, Graeme Smith, Simon Doull, Ian Bishop and Tom Moody.
They were part of a 50-member list including former cricketers, statisticians, analysts, senior sports journalists.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) yesterday called upon the Sri Lankan authorities to respect human rights in the conduct of their investigation of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, including ensuring that investigations into the alleged involvement of Sri Lankan lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah are conducted in accordance with due process and fair trial guarantees under international law. Specifically, the authorities must specify the charges against him, grant him full and immediate access to a lawyer, and investigate the circumstances of his arrest for potential rights violations, they said in a statement.
Sri Lankan lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department of the Police (CID) on 14 April pursuant to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and has since been kept in detention. No reasons were provided at the time of the arrest. During a media briefing, a Police spokesperson stated that he was arrested as a result of the evidence found against him during investigations into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. The ICJ understands that no remand or detention orders authorising his continued detention have been served, even after the lapse of 72 hours as required by Sections 7 and 9 of the PTA.
The Election Commission (EC) had decided to hold the next general election, on June 20, Chairman of commission Mahinda Deshapriya said, yesterday.
The three-member EC met, last evening, to decide a date for the general election, which has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A proposal for holding the election on 20 May was defeated. The second proposal for holding the election on 2 June faced a similar fate. Finally, the three members had agreed to hold the election on 20 June, sources said.
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.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has called on all citizens to remember the victims of the Easter terror blasts that shook Sri Lanka on April 21 last year, claiming over 270 lives and injuring more than 500 persons.
The serial blasts, which was carried out by an apparently IS-inspired squad of suicide bombers, targeted three churches in and near Colombo, and in the eastern Batticaloa district, and three luxury hotels in the capital. Coming exactly a decade after Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war ended, the ghastly Easter Sunday attacks delivered a major blow to the island’s hard-won, relative peace.
As it swept the globe starting in 1918 through the end of 1919, the deadly virus afflicted 500 million people, and left 50 million dead. Among the dead were royalty and world leaders, like Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of South Africa, Saudi Prince Tuki I bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Rose Cleveland, a First Lady of the United States, Brazilian President Rodrigues Alves and Prince Erik of Sweden. Another notable fatality was Bavarian businessman Frederick Trump, whose grandson Donald John Trump is today President of the United States. King Alfonso the 13th of Spain, Prime Minister Peter Fraser of New Zealand, Haile Selassie the 1st, Emperor of Ethiopia, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, German Chancellor Prince Maximillian of Baden, Queen Alexandrine of Denmark and American President Woodrow Wilson were all afflicted by the virus but recovered from their illness.
This virus was not the coronavirus that plagues us today, but the H1N1 avian virus that caused the pandemic of 1918, commonly known as the ‘Spanish Flu’. It is a strange artifact of history that while most of us are familiar with the great bubonic plagues of the 16th Century, modern society has little knowledge of the 1918 flu pandemic that infected a third of the world’s population and killed anywhere from 1% to 3% of all human life.
While the disease charged across the land and paralysed countries on both sides of the ‘Great War’, governments across the world forbid journalists from reporting the truth about its extent, censoring the press out of fear that knowledge of the pandemic would hurt the morale of troops fighting on the frontlines. Most of the reporting about the disease came from Spain, which remained neutral during World War I, and did not censor their press’ attempts to tell the truth about the virus. In a sinister turn of events, countries from Europe to the Americas capitalized on the Spanish transparency to play down the disease’s impact in their own countries, instead taking the opportunity to brand the pandemic the “Spanish Flu”.
One of the few detailed modern accounts of this era is “The Great Influenza”, a well-researched book by historian John M. Barry that was published in 2004. Today, experts have reached consensus that the 1918 flu originated somewhere in North America and spread rapidly across the world in large part due to the hectic pace of global activity that accompanied the first World War from 1914 to 1918. Thus, the disease that came to be known worldwide as the “Spanish flu” did not actually start in Spain. In Spain itself, the disease was blamed on the French and called the “French flu”.
(Text of a letter sent on April 16th 2020 by Elections Commission Member Prof. S. Ratnajeeva H.Hoole to fellow members of the Election Commission on the subject of gazetting a date for polls)
Two days ago, the Chairman telephoned me to confirm my attendance at the Commission meeting on 20.04.2020, and proposed that we gazette polls for 28.05.2020, suggesting that if the COVID Pandemic is not over we could postpone again. I disagreed. I am writing this note to the Commission to argue that we must not set a date until we are sure that we will not be jeopardizing the population’s health by doing so. Here are my seven reasons:
1. Credibility and Infeasibility:
Setting a new date would make us worse off than now. Once candidates commence campaigning in earnest, we would lose all credibility if we changed dates again. Close to 28.05.2020, we would have no feasible time to avert a constitutional crisis as the 02.06.2020 deadline for the new parliament to convene nears.
We must note that Dr. P.B. Jayasundara has already written in his letter to us, dated 06.04.2020, that after we announced the poll date, several independent candidates and several recognized Political Parties have accepted and acted in accordance with that announcement.
If we publish 28.05.2020 or thereabouts as the new date of election, Dr. Jayasundara will make the same argument that “several independent candidates and several recognized Political Parties have accepted and acted in accordance with” the new date. That is a strong reason why we must not get into the same predicament again. The first thing is to have a clear idea on where we stand.
Former National List MP and ‘constitutional expert’ Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, PC, said yesterday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had no option but to withdraw proclamation, dissolving parliament, to prevent an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Wickremaratne said that as President Rajapaksa, had, in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, called an early general election, the initiated process could be reversed by reconvening parliament by proper means. “Then parliament can go on until 01 September. Elections can be held in late November or before. But if the situation improves and a free and fair election is possible, then he can dissolve Parliament, before 01 September,” the former Lawmaker said.
The one-time LSSP stalwart played a significant role in introducing the 19th Amendment, enacted in 2015. The UNP accommodated him on its National List, following the last parliamentary election, conducted in Aug 2015.
Responding to another query, the former MP insisted that the President couldn’t be allowed to govern the country for more than three months, without being subjected to parliamentary oversight.
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.
Twitter is rarely short of drama. Except that last week, Sri Lanka’s Twitter bubble saw some of it originate from an unlikely source — the official handle of the Chinese Embassy here.
It all began with a letter dated April 8, from the Embassy, addressed to the chairman of the privately-run Wijeya Newspapers group. In the letter, which was also released to the media, mission spokesperson Luo Chong took a strong objection to three pieces on COVID-19 published in two of the group’s publications — Daily Mirror and Sunday Times.
One of the articles was an interview, headlined “Sri Lanka must ensure China is held accountable”, with an American Lawyer who has filed a lawsuit against Chinese authorities, whom he blames for the global pandemic. The second, titled “China accused of negligence”, was an interview with the head of a local consumer rights organisation. The third, the Embassy’s letter said, was a column that referred to COVID-19 as “Wuhan COVID”.
The anti-democracy virus infecting law enforcement officials in Sri Lanka today appears to have proceeded belligerently to the point that an attorney-at-law was arrested this week in circumstances so outrageous that it has drawn the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) out of hibernation to express its ‘concern.’
A manifestly curious arrest
Pointing out in wary tones that reasons for the arrest of this attorney of Muslim ethnicity, who is no stranger to Hulfsdorp’s legal circles, has not been made known up to now, the Bar has observed that his arrest appears to be based on ‘certain functions’ attended to by him ‘in his professional capacity as a member of the Bar.’ As other reports indicate and to all intents and purposes, this lawyer had advised his clients implicated in cases connected to last year’s Easter Sunday attacks by ‘home grown jihadists,’ had been speaking out in regard to the racial profiling of Muslims in Sri Lanka’s anti-covid drive and had been a strong advocate of exposing racial discrimination. But as to how and in what circumstances, these actions taken individually or indeed collectively, violated the law remains a singular puzzle.
While this sequence of events remains to be clarified in due course, what makes this ‘curioser and curioser’ is that the habeas corpus application filed by his father days after the arrest details that the first intimation to him and the members of his family by state officers that their home would be paid a visit, was by officials of the Ministry of Health regarding tracing of covid-19 infections. However, it was not Health Ministry officials who arrived at his residence but officers of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). If this version is to be believed absent an authoritative refutation, Sri Lanka has opened itself to joining the unsavoury grouping of states taking cover of the virus spread to tighten their authoritarian grip on their citizens.
Some 10,000 frontline health workers in Sri Lanka are working tirelessly to arrest the spread of COVID-19 that has affected 235 people and claimed seven lives until Wednesday. Partnering them in their response to the public health crisis is the Sri Lankan military, playing many roles from contact-tracing to running quarantine centres to distributing relief.
As soon as the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health hears from a designated laboratory of a positive case, its staff activate “case search” among the infected person’s close contacts, doctors attached to the unit said. The “activation” essentially involves informing the military and State Intelligence Service immediately, who then proceed to trace those who had been in contact with the patient, and direct them to quarantine, Dr. Deepa Gamage, Consultant Epidemiologist, told The Hindu.
Doctors underscore the military’s efforts in stepping up the national response to the pandemic. But they also point to the public health system’s track record — Sri Lanka was declared Malaria-free in 2016 — and its strengths particularly in preventive community medicine that are proving valuable at this time.
(Text of Press Release Issued by the Tamil National Alliance Media Office)
18th April 2020
The Chairman and Members of
The Election Commission of Sri Lanka,
Holding of General Election 2020
We write to express certain serious concerns regarding the above election, considering the prevailing situation in the country. The holding of periodic elections are indeed the cornerstone to upholding democracy. Any exception to this rule can only be in the most serious of circumstances. Unfortunately, however, Sri Lanka, like the rest of the world, today faces just such exceptional circumstances: a global pandemic posing grave threats not only to public health, safety and security, but to the national and global economy as well. Both local and global medical experts have clearly indicated that the key to containing the spread of this pandemic is to eliminate all public gatherings/movement, except for essential services, and those necessary to prevent economic collapse. Every effort must be made to contain the spread of the disease, in order to prevent further burdening an already severely overburdened public healthcare service, in order to ensure that Sri Lanka is equipped to continue to effectively deal with the health consequences of this pandemic.
The nation-wide curfew will be eased from Monday as the month-long lock down measures reduced the spread of the Coronavirus which claimed at least seven lives, the government said yesterday.
The curfew will be lifted on Monday (20) at 5.00 am and re-imposed at 8.00 pm in all the districts, except Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam, Kandy, Kegalle and Ampara, the Presidential Secretariat said in a statement.
Thereafter a nine-hour night curfew will be in place until further notice.
A Habeas Corpus application was filed yesterday before the Court of Appeal on behalf of senior lawyer Hejaz Hisbullah, who has been arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over his alleged links to the Easter Sunday bombers.
The petition was filed by his father, Naina Hizbullah, through Attorney-at-Law Gowry Shangary Thavarasha, seeking the Court to direct the Respondents to release and discharge lawyer Hejaz Hisbullah from custody/detention.
The Petitioner cited Acting IGP and the CID Director as well as the Attorney General as Respondents.
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.
(Most of this article Summarized by Theodore Warnakulasuriya is adopted from the Daniel P. Sulmasy who is the André Hellegers Professor of Biomedical Ethics in the Departments of Medicine and Philosophy and Acting Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington)
As we know different countries have shown different responses to treating people who are affected by a monstrous coronavirus. I like to share the thoughts of a leading American philosopher and bioethicist and what he has to say about and how he looks at the unexamined assumptions that underlie different public policy approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is frightening to see that this monster infects young and old, rich and poor, politicians and labourers, the able-bodied and the disabled, people of every nation and race. According to the statistics given by World Meter, 210 Countries and Territories around the world have reported a total of the coronavirus COVID-19 that originated from Wuhan,China, and a death toll of 145,551 deaths. Latest figures show 146,841 people have died so far from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as of April 17, 2020, 04:48 GMT. There are currently 2,183,148 confirmed cases in 210 countries and territories . The fatality rate is still being assessed.
It is well known that the Coronavirus have different effects on different people – older persons and those with diabetes or heart conditions fare worse. Mercifully, children do not seem to become so sick. But no one who has not been infected is immune.
Sri Lanka’s leading Roman Catholic Prelate says pogroms against Muslims three weeks after the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide attacks on Churches by Islamic extremists were carried out “by political elements who had nothing to do with the Christian community.”
Addressing a press conference today, Thursday, April 16, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said the attacks on Muslim-owned homes and businesses weeks after the suicide assaults were “by organized groups inspired by political elements wanting to create a rift between the Muslim and Christian minorities in Sri Lanka.”
The Election Commission would consult political parties, doctors, epidemiologists, the armed forces and the Police and all others fighting the war against COVID-19, after April 20 in order to take a decision on conducting Parliamentary elections, member of the Elections Commission (EC) N. J. Abeysekara PC said yesterday.
However, Mr. Abeysekara reiterated that the conduct of the polls entirely depended on the situation of the viral infection in the country.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) yesterday expressed concern about the well-being of attorney-at-law Hejaz Hizbullah, who has been taken into custody by the CID, allegedly over his links to the Easter Sunday bombers.
“According to (the) information we have received, the reasons for his arrest have not been made known till now. We are informed the arrest was based on certain functions attended by Mr. Hizbullah in his professional capacity, as a member of the Bar,” BASL President Kalinga Indatisssa PC said in a letter he sent the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
(Text of Letter Sent by former Colombo District MP and Leader of the Democratic Peoples Front/Tamil Progressive Alliance Mano Ganesan to the Chairman of the Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya Regarding the Holding of Parliamentary Elections while Sri Lanka coninues to face the Covid-19 Pandemic Threat)
· The Chairman
Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
Dear Mr. Chairman,
As you are aware as a nation, we are facing the Covid-19 crisis.
World Health Organization (WHO) characterized Covid-19 as ‘Pandemic’ on March 11th. Leader of the Opposition, speaking in the Parliament on-behalf of the majority of the Srilankan Parliamentarians, cautioned the government on Covid-19 twice; i.e., first on Jan 27 and later on Feb 5.
Hence, the civil and political society requested the present caretaker government to take appropriate actions to control the spread of the virus.
Despite all of the above, the present caretaker government prematurely dissolved the parliament on March 2nd and declared the dates for the nominations and elections.
On Sri Lanka’s Health Promotion Bureau portal, the total number of COVID-19 positive cases, updated in real time, was 219 on Tuesday evening. Of those, 151 are active.
Seven patients who contracted the virus have died, while 61 have recovered, according to the official bulletin. Compared to most other countries in the neighbourhood, the cases in Sri Lanka appear to be relatively under control, even as some within the medical community here call for more testing. How is Sri Lanka, with arguably the best public health system in the region, fighting the pandemic?
Sri Lanka reported the first case of coronavirus late January, when a visiting Chinese tourist tested positive. Weeks after the patient recovered and left the country, authorities reported the first confirmed case of a Sri Lankan national, a tour guide. He tested positive on March 10, after he came in contact with a group of Italian tourists.
Sri Lankan police have arrested more than seven individuals, including several university students, on allegations of publishing “false” information on their Facebook accounts and “maliciously” criticising public officials involved in COVID-19 prevention programs. Authorities claim that such news “impedes” the work of officials attempting to contain the pandemic.
The crackdown follows an April 1 directive by the acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) ordering the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and all police stations to arrest accused individuals. Deputy Inspector General of Police Ajith Rohana later told the media that anyone sharing “false” information would also be charged.
It is yet another sign that President Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s government is preparing even more repressive attacks on freedom of expression in response to rising social discontent.
There are indications that the postponed Sri Lankan parliamentary elections will be held on May 27 or 28, so that the newly elected parliament meets before the set three-month deadline of June 2.
The government expects to control the spread of the novel coronavirus by the end of April 30 to allow parties to campaign for the polls. According to WHO, as on April 11, there were 200 cases of which 138 were “active”. 54 had recovered and seven had died.
The Sri Lankan President’s Secretary, Dr.P.B.Jayasundara, has clearly indicated that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is keen on holding the elections early, so that the new parliament meets, as scheduled, before June 2.
Following this, the Election Commissioner, Mahinda Deshapriya, reportedly said that the commission will meet on April 20 to decide on the revised date of the elections.
Dr. B. J. C. Perera Specialist Consultant Paediatrician
There are heaps of different ideas, veiled innuendos, public inquiries, all kinds of varied recommendations and countless queries about the different types of tests that can be done to detect and diagnose SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic. It is a deadly disease that is relentlessly sweeping through all areas of the planet earth.
Some of these enquiries regarding the tests seek information while some others are rather mischievously designed to find fault with someone or the other or to question as to why this test or that test is not being used in our country. It is obvious, especially from media reports and even social media pontifications that many persons of the lay-public ask numerous questions as to why this test or that test is either done or not done. This article is written in good faith to provide some scientific state-of-the-art information for digestion by the general public on the current status of these tests. It is hoped that it would clear the air, at least a little bit.
A group of Muslim organizations has requested Acting IGP Chandana Wickramaratne to inquire into an alleged campaign against the Muslim community.
The following is the text of the letter:
“We, the undersigned Muslim organizations in Sri Lanka, respectfully lodge this complaint for your immediate investigation and urgent action on the continued hate mongering against the Muslim community.
“There are several clippings in circulation in the social media, including a video recording of the President of the Sri Lanka Health Officers Association.
“Please see attached an audio recording of an anonymous person that is already in public circulation containing material that violates several of the country’s laws, including section 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No 56 of 2007, section 2(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No 48 of 1979, section 120 of the Penal Code and other provisions. We believe that the originator of the voice recording of the social media post can be easily traced.
The Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) is calling on all political parties, civil society activists and the general public to strongly oppose the attempt by the government to create an autocratic, anti-democratic state in Sri Lanka.
In a statement issued today, April 11, the SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said that in the guise of battling the spread of COVID 19 the government is “disregarding the role of the courts and the country’s Constitution.”
The Chairman of the All Ceylon Peasants Federation, Namal Karunaratne, yesterday called on government to get the services of the Railway Department to distribute the agriculture produce of the farmers who had been struck by a double whammy – due to the decision to shut down economic centres and the inability to sell produce at a good price.
The government closed down economic centres to prevent public gatherings and to curb the spread of COVID –19.
As a result, farmers who could sell their produce at economic centres, mainly targeting wholesalers, have resorted to selling their goods on road sides and at public playgrounds.
It’s been less than two weeks since New Zealand imposed a coronavirus lockdown so strict that swimming at the beach and hunting in bushland were banned. They’re not essential activities, plus we’ve been told not to do anything that could divert emergency services’ resources.
People have been walking and biking strictly in their neighborhoods, lining up six feet apart while waiting to go one-in-one-out into grocery stores, and joining swaths of the world in discovering the vagaries of home schooling.
It took only 10 days for signs that the approach here — “elimination” rather than the “containment” goal of the United States and other Western countries — is working.
The number of new cases has fallen for two consecutive days, despite a huge increase in testing, with 54 confirmed or probable cases reported Tuesday. That means the number of people who have recovered, 65, exceeds the number of daily infections.
“The signs are promising,” Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, said Tuesday.
A little over a month ago, Sri Lanka detected its first local COVID-19 infected patient, leading to more cases eventually being reported from across the country.
Today, a month later, the country has detected over 200 COVID-19 infected patients while over 50 of them have been successfully treated and discharged. Over 100 are under medical observation in the designated hospitals while 7 deaths have been reported.
From the day the first case was detected in January, that of a Chinese national, immediate steps were taken by the government and authorities, to prevent a spread in the island nation. Today, under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and with the expertise and management of health workers, tri forces and all other leading personnel, Sri Lanka has to a great extent been able to limit the spread of the virus as only home transmissions are yet being detected. The work of our front line personnel in this battle is truly commendable.
In terror filled months which stretch endlessly into each other, the covid-19 pandemic has seen thousands die, obliterated assumptions of functional ‘First World’ health systems, stamped incredible images of shoppers fighting over toilet paper in Australia and the United States on our unwilling retinas and led to the best as well as the worst of humanity on display.
It is almost as if all our favorite ‘extinction-event’ movie blockbusters were stupendously combined into one long, persistent nightmare from which the world just does not seem to be able to wake.
Tilting at windmills of ‘criticism’
So if ever there was a time to put petty differences aside, that would be now. Yet, on the national stage as well as internationally, the contrary is true.
Did a China-centric policy on the part of WHO delay crucial warnings of human-to-human transmission of the virus with the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern coming as late as 30th January 2020? The jury is (definitively) out on that question. But as the WHO and US President Donald Trump trade barbs on that score, global statistics of the dead and dying increase by the hour.
I refer to the Daily Mirror article, of today’s date, on the date for summoning the new Parliament after elections, and The Island’s two pieces yesterday on the same topic. I am in “Lockdown” in Jaffna and write on my own as a Member of the Election Commission in response to Dr. P.B. Jayasundara’s letter.
Dr. Jayasundara wrongly starts the Daily Mirror interview: “President’s Secretary P.B.Jayasundara in a reply to the Chairman of Election Commission said that the date for fixing the poll is the responsibility of the Election Commission and therefore the question of reference to the Supreme Court in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution does not arise.” He is missing the point. Reference is urgent.
Yes, fixing the date for polls is the EC’s responsibility. But averting a constitutional crisis is the President’s more than anybody else’s, and only he can seek the constitutional advice of the Supreme Court.
We have clearly stated that we cannot fix a date to conform to the constitutional requirement of Constitution’s Article 70(5)(a) that the date of summoning the new Parliament has to be within 3 months of the date of the Gazette for the dissolution of Parliament – which was 2 March – making June 2 the last date the new Parliament must meet.
Perhaps most importantly, as in yesterday’s Island’s headline, “Dr. P. B. Jayasundara, Secretary to the President, has written to Mahinda Deshapriya, Chairman of the Election Commission, pointing out that the latter has failed to act according to the full provisions of Section 24 of the Parliamentary Elections Act and should have published another date for the general election as per Section 24 (3) of the Act.
Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressing his concern that the country could be headed for a public health disaster and economic catastrophe unless it adapts to the new ground realities as it battles the COVID-19 crisis.
In the letter titled ‘COVID- 19 Crisis: A Need to Change Direction,’ the former Speaker said while the restrictions on public movement imposed by the Government had helped to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the health services, Armed Forces and Police had performed admirably in providing essential services to the people, there was the need for the country to adapt to the new ground realities. Towards this end he has made several observations and recommendations that have been placed before him by public health experts and other professionals.
Jayasuriya pointed out six areas on which the authorities would need to focus on in their coronavirus control programs. These include dealing with criminalisation and stigmatisation of victims, eradication versus containment, testing, employment, economic recovery and curfew mitigation.
Following is the full text of the letter:
While the restrictions on public movement imposed by the Government have helped to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the health services, Armed Forces and Police have performed admirably in providing essential services to the people, I am increasingly concerned that a public health disaster and economic catastrophe will ensue unless the country adapts to the new ground realities.
With a view to minimising loss of life and damage to the economy, it is my duty to bring to your urgent attention the following observations and recommendations placed before me by public health experts and other professionals.