Election Commission faces heavy pressure from the government to hold polls soon despite pandemic
A medical worker takes a blood sample from a woman for a Covid-19 test in Sri Lankan capital Colombo on June 1. (Photo: Lakruwan Wanniarachichi/AFP)
Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has rejected petitions challenging the dissolution of parliament and the general election slated for June 20.
The court dismissed fundamental rights petitions seeking to annul the president's order to dissolve parliament and the Election Commission's decision to hold the general election on April 25, a date later postponed to June 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After 10 days of deliberation, the Supreme Court decided to reject the petitions.
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Political parties, the Center for Policy Alternatives and journalist Victor Ivan along with seven others filed fundamental rights petitions challenging the holding of the general election on June 20 and the dissolution of parliament by the president.
The Election Commission informed the Supreme Court on May 20 that it would be impossible to hold a general election on June 20 given the current situation.
The government said that as soon as the health authorities confirm that the coronavirus is under control, the election should be held to create a new parliament.
Udual Senarath, an election monitor, said that due to the curfew and social distancing measures it would be very difficult to hold the election immediately but he respected the court’s decision.
Senarath said the Election Commission is due to take a decision on the date of the election on June 3. "The Election Commission has already notified the Government Printing Department to print the ballot papers," he said.
According to the powers vested in the president, the election was announced earlier. Parliament's term was to end in September, but the president has the power to dissolve it six months ahead of schedule. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved it on March 2, six months prior to the due date.
According to observers, the Election Commission is under heavy pressure from the government to hold the polls soon. Opposition parties argue that candidates cannot run campaigns through public meetings and door-to-door canvassing due to social distancing.
The Election Commission informed the court that a further 60-70 days are required after the Health Department gives the green light to hold the election.
Sri Lanka is among the most successful countries in containing the spread of the disease due to authorities prioritizing the health and safety of the people.
President's Counsel Saliya Peiris said the Election Commission will hold an election in about 10 weeks once the health authorities give the go-ahead.
There are 7,452 candidates including 3,652 representing political parties and 3,800 representing independent groups.
Activist Suneetha Darmapriya said the politicization of the coronavirus welfare process has given the ruling party an additional advantage.
"There should be equal ground for all political parties and candidates. Establish a transparent and credible mechanism to address issues arising during the election campaign," she said.
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