Are we all set for a early June Parliamentary Election?
Posted on April 27th, 2020

Gagani Weerakoon Courtesy Ceylon Today

Due to the imposition of curfew, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year 2020 had to be celebrated in solitary comfort of their homes.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also remained in his residence in Mirihana during this period. At the dawn of the New Year, Rajapaksa contacted his siblings, the Minister of Mahaweli, Agriculture, Irrigation and Rural Development, Chamal Rajapaksa and the Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa and extended his New year wishes.

The President also received calls from the public while he constantly was in contact with officials for the discussion on measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the measures taken for the country to return to normalcy.

On 15 April he arrived at the Presidential Secretariat and called on the Presidential Task Force, appointed to combat COVID-19, to inquire into the updates of the measures taken.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa also celebrated the New Year with his family at the Carlton House in Tangalle. Although generally a huge crowd gathers at the Carlton House during New Year season, this year was an exception.

Certain New Year traditions have been consistently followed at the Carlton House every year and this year it took place in the presence of his whole family.

On 14 April, Minister of Passenger Transport Management, Power and Energy, Mahinda Aamaraweera arrived at the Carlton House to wish Premier while the former Governor of the Central Bank, Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Rajapaksa’s parliamentary affairs secretary, Kumarasiri Hettige travelled from Colombo to Tangalle to wish him.


On 15 April, Premier visited his elder brother Chamal Rajapaksa’s residence and spent a few days at the Carlton Estate in Weeraketiya while constantly making contact for updates on measures implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The President, head of the Presidential Task Force, Basil Rajapaksa, the Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Director General of Health Services, Anil Jasinghe and the current Commander of Army, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva were constantly in contact during the New Year period.

Prasanna blames JVP

The National Organizer of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the former Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa appears to be held up in a busy schedule although he is not a Cabinet Minister or even a deputy minister.


While the SLPP has long been preparing for the upcoming General Elections, Rajapaksa, right after having handed over nominations, has been vested with a huge additional responsibility.


He has been appointed as the head of the Presidential Task Force formed by the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in order to take necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including the curfews that have been imposed and other precautionary measures adopted by the government.


Basil has had experience in such involvement. Discussions in furtherance for measures that have to be adopted for the country to return to normalcy have thus taken place at Temple Trees under his leadership.


A similar discussion was also held on 15 April chaired by Rajapaksa. This discussion was more far-fetched as in addition to steps that have to be implemented for the country to return to normalcy, measures pertaining to that of Sri Lankans currently overseas were also discussed.


The discussion focused on the return of Sri Lankan citizens overseas who want to return to their homeland during the pandemic as there is a considerable number of such individuals. Minister of Foreign Relations, Dinesh Gunawardena and the Minister of Industrial Exports and Investment Promotion, Prasanna Ranatunga were also present at this discussion.


Basil stated that these individuals have to be brought back to Sri Lanka upon the instructions of health officials while the spread of COVID-19 will also be controlled.


Meanwhile Gunawardena noted that information on these individuals have been obtained from Embassies and High Commissions and the process of ensuring their return is being carried out methodically.


Ranatunga added that the SriLankan Airlines will begin preparations for their return upon the approval of the State while emphasizing that the instructions of the State and health officials in this regard is mandatory.


Upon approval, they will be tested at the airport following which the report could be obtained within six hours until which they will remain in the airport. They will then be subject to a 14 day quarantine period.


During the previous Cabinet meeting, matters pertaining to Sri Lankans stranded in International airports was also discussed.


Ranatunga said issue of over 33 Sri Lankans having been stranded in foreign airports and measures that have to be adopted for their return were discussed in this Cabinet meeting adding that two Sri Lankans who arrived from the London Heathrow Airport have also been subject to quarantine.


He also stated that JVP’s, Wasantha Samarasinghe had alleged that Sri LankanAirlines is operating as usual while not taking measures for the return of Sri Lankan citizens overseas.


”This is a complete hoax as this entity has carried out their social responsibility by ensuring the safe return of Sri Lankans from Wuhan China and will continue this by bringing back all other Sri Lankans overseas when time permits,” he said while blaming JVP for consistently making false accusations and not carrying out clean politics.
 Rajapaksa then instructed officials to take steps and formulate mechanisms for the quick return of all those who are employed overseas, involved in business and students studying in foreign universities.


It’s all about elections


The Party led by South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-In, has scored an emphatic victory in the parliamentary poll held early this week. More than 17 million had cast their vote despite some 30 persons being tested positive for the coronavirus every day.


Though political pundits had expressed doubts about people being eager to vote, due to the rapid spread of the killer virus, the voter turnout had been 66.2 percent, dispelling those predictions.


Despite the presence of some 3,100 COVID-19 infected people throughout the nation, the South Korean Government had taken measures to conduct the election at eight quarantine centres, too.


Also, unlike previous polls there, an additional five million voters had cast their vote at the poll. The Democratic Party led by President Moon Jae-In had won 180 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly.


Political pundits have pointed out that what had enabled the ruling party to post an emphatic win had been its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the prevention of the spread of the deadly virus throughout the country.


Political analysts have noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had proved to be a blessing in disguise for President Moon Jae-In and his party as they won comfortably.


However, at the onset of the disease, the handling of the pandemic by President Jae-In had come in for severe criticism.


An internet petition containing over 1 million signatures had been posted over the South Korean President’s decision taken not to prohibit travel between Seoul and Beijing.


But, despite such criticisms the handling of the spread of the pandemic by the South Korean Government sans any lockdown had come in for much praise from around the world.


Meanwhile, the South Korean Government had also made facilities available to some 44 million qualified voters to cast their vote at the election.


The talk in the town is that even Sri Lanka too, in the past, had conducted elections at the height of JVP insurgency, where people were massacred when involved in the democratic process and also when Prabhakaran obstructed the Tamils in the North and East from voting in 2005.


If both, the Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasingha and the head of the presidential taskforce, to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, were to grant approval, the stalled General Election (GE) could be held during the last week of May, sources attached to the Election Commission (EC) say.


The Election Commission headed by Mahinda Deshapriya is already planning to hold a crucial discussion regarding the present situation in the country as well as the measures that could be taken to conduct the postponed General Election which was originally slated to be held on 25 April.      


These sources noted that Dr. Jasingha, who is the sole authority empowered to enforce the COVID-19 Quarantine Act in the country, as well as several other health officers have been invited for a discussion with Election Commission officials on 20 April.


Among others who have been invited for this discussion have been the Army Commander, Acting IGP Chandana Wickremaratna, DIG Priyantha Weerasuriya and PMG Ranjith Ariyaratna.


Meanwhile, Election Commission sources stated that all necessary measures to conduct the 2020 General Election has been undertaken by the Commission and they are also planning to publicize the preference numbers of all candidates through the publication of a gazette notification shortly.


A senior officer from the Commission added that if the General Election is to be held during the final week of May, the Election Commission would need a period of five weeks commencing from 20 April.


In the meantime political analysts have said that akin to South Korea staging its own General Election despite the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic there, Sri Lanka too would be able to take a lead from that book and hold its own General Election both successfully and effectively.


However, legal circles have pointed out that based on the gazette notification issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa the General Election would have to be held before 2 June this year.


Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Friday (17) requested the Government and the Opposition to work together with the Election Commission (EC) to avoid a possible Constitutional crisis if the Parliamentary Election could not be held on time.


In a statement, Jayasuriya said that if a Constitutional crisis erupted at this particular time, there would be a risk of delegitimising and destabilising the country, which could gravely impact Sri Lanka’s prospects of obtaining economic relief.


“Sri Lanka is the only democracy to face the 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 EC 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 the Election on time, these must be explored immediately,” he said.


Jayasuriya said he had recently been contacted by religious and political leaders, former Parliamentarians, academics, civil society and trade union representatives and members of the public seeking clarification on the impasse between the EC and the Executive on the Parliamentary Election.


“Sri Lanka is faced with an unprecedented health and economic crisis. As the prospect of a Constitutional crisis further compounding the plight of our country is a matter of grave national concern, I am setting out my position publicly rather than replying to each query individually,” he said, issuing the statement.


He noted that it was the position of the EC that the prevailing situation and logistical constraints prevented the Parliamentary Election from being held in time for the new Parliament to be summoned to meet by 2 June while the Government was of the view that there wasn’t necessarily any impediment to holding the Parliamentary Election on or before 28 May.


“In the interest of the nation, I appeal to the Government, the Opposition, and other stakeholders to set aside their political differences and to take urgent and meaningful steps to avoid an unnecessary third crisis for our country,” Jayasuriya said.


Meanwhile, all active election observation missions urged all relevant authorities to resolve their issues regarding a new election date, with the mutual understanding of not creating a Constitutional crisis against the backdrop of COVID-19.


Issuing a joint statement, they pointed out that: i) It is undesirable to head into an election with the EC and the Executive at odds with each other, ii) An environment of relief provision to those affected by the crisis is not ideal for an election campaign, as it can be exploited by candidates for their own political gain, as can already be seen; and iii) The National Operation Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak and health authorities must confirm that the new election date will not put voters and election officials at risk.


The tug-o- war, as to who should take initiative to declare the next date for General Election is continuing,  issuing a statement on the matter, Prime Minister Rajapaksa has elaborated on holding elections amid COVID-19.
Full Statement:


The Coronavirus pandemic hit countries like the USA, India and Bangladesh in a situation where their economies had been experiencing strong growth for years. In contrast, Sri Lanka has had to face this crisis in a state of economic ruin. During the five years of yahapalana misrule from 2015 to 2019, our debt burden increased by 71%, the Rupee lost one third of its value and economic growth had plummeted to 2.7%. 

Furthermore, though we had won the presidency in November 2019 and formed a government, we did not have a majority in Parliament and were not able to get a vote on account passed even to pay off the previous government’s debts to suppliers of fertilizer and medicine.


The financial powers vested in the President, under Article 150 (3) of the Constitution, is the only saving grace in this situation. It was with all these debilitating disadvantages that we had to face the Coronavirus pandemic. After the first Coronavirus patient was discovered on 11 March, we introduced a raft of measures to control the disease including early detection, isolation and treatment of patients, quarantine for those exposed to risk, the tracing of patients’ contacts and social distancing measures. An operation like this has not been seen in our lifetimes. Curfews lasting for weeks on end had to be imposed to prevent the spread of the disease.


People unable to go out of their homes had to be supplied with essentials like foodstuffs, medicines, and even cash throughout the country. Aid had to be provided to low income earners. The produce of paddy and vegetable farmers and fishermen had to be bought to keep the production process going. The fact that all these tasks were dealt with simultaneously at short notice is nothing less than a managerial miracle. Today, the whole world acknowledges Sri Lanka’s success in containing the coronavirus pandemic.


The President’s leadership in this regard has to be commended. Our government doctors, nurses, and health service workers have come to the attention of the entire world. The skill and dedication of the intelligence services in tracing the contacts of patients, the efficiency of the armed forces in implementing quarantine and lockdown measures has prevented the spread of the disease. 

The Police, and government officials at all levels have all contributed to the success of the anti-Coronavirus campaign. Today, our country is one of the safest places to be in the whole world. We have achieved this despite an economy that had been driven into the ground, and an unpatriotic and opportunistic opposition bent on undermining our government at every turn.


 The opposition leader tried to sabotage the anti-coronavirus campaign at the very outset by personally encouraging protests against the quarantine process. Then they tried to undermine government services including the health service with the argument that the President had no power to allocate funds for government services after the dissolution of Parliament. Now they say that the Gazette dissolving Parliament should be rescinded the as the new parliament has to meet before the 2nd of June, and the parliamentary election cannot be held before that.


The yahapalana government delayed local government elections by nearly three years. Their attempt to postpone that election indefinitely by moving courts failed only because the Elections Commission declared they would hold elections to the institutions that were not involved in litigation. 

With just days to go for the dissolution of the provincial councils in 2017, the yahapalana government changed the provincial councils elections system to prevent elections from taking place. When the Attorney General held that a two thirds majority in Parliament was required to pass that amendment, they bartered policy for votes in the corridors of Parliament to obtain the required majority.


As a result of that unprincipled political horse trading, the local government elections law which was passed on 25 August 2017 has 40% proportional representation whereas the provincial council elections law passed four weeks later has 50% proportional representation! Sri Lanka is also the only democratic country in the world where political parties petitioned the Supreme Court to get the declaration of a parliamentary election annulled. The present scramble to have the parliamentary elections put off is a continuation of that deplorable past.


Things have to come back to normal sooner or later. In eleven of the 25 administrative districts, there have been no coronavirus patients at all. In another seven districts, there have been only one or two patients, and five to seven patients in two more districts. Only five districts have a high incidence of coronavirus patients.


On 2 March the President dissolved Parliament and fixed 25 April for the poll and 14 May for the first meeting of the new Parliament. Ten days later, when the first Coronavirus patient was found, the President did not have the power to postpone the poll. Under Section 24(3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act No: 1 of 1981, when the poll cannot be held on the day fixed by the President, the Elections Commission is mandatorily required to fix another day for the poll. 

They have no power to postpone the poll without fixing another date. Such mandatory legal requirements cannot be ignored on the basis of speculation as to what may or may not happen weeks and months into the future. The Elections Commission should first fulfill its duties under Section 24(3) and thereafter take up for discussion any outstanding issues.


Sajith begins online campaign


The members of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya have continued to communicate with the public almost every day through online platforms amid the curfew regarding the current situation of the country and through this method Former opposition Leader and SJB Party Leader Sajith Premadasa has taken the initiative to educate people on the faults evident within the relief mechanism established by the Government.


Due to this reason, the members of the SJB decided to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and share with him their opinions on how the country should function under the present circumstances.  Apart from this, Premadasa has also taken steps to advice his party members to help provide relief to people in any way they can sans political bias.


However the members of the SJB replied to Premadasa claiming that it is not the SJB who are favoring the people based on their political bias but rather the Government and added that the Government only provides relief to a selected group of people from which the majority is biased towards them. The members of the SJB further claimed that it is only Premadasa who truly helps people in need without having his own political agenda and further added that during the Presidential campaign there were individuals who voted for the opposing political parties while living in houses that were provided to them by Premadasa.


Premadasa then noted that political leaders should lend help to people in need without taking politics into consideration and added that he is not used to working with the hope of winning an election but rather he wants to help the people in need regardless of the time and place. Premadasa then questioned as to why the Government has failed to provide equal relief to everyone when they have successfully lead the health and defense sectors to control the spreading of COVID-19 and opined that the Government should not involve politics when helping the public.


During discussions held by Premadasa through the media, he also took the initiative to communicate to the people regarding a few important topics such as the reopening of the tourism and apparel industries.  Premadasa also opined, via a message posted on twitter on 16 April, that Sri Lanka should be made into a medicine producing center and added that if the relevant authorities focus on developing modern machinery that is capable of producing medicines then the country can use its existing resources to manufacture medicines.  


Meanwhile during a discussion held between party leaders Premadasa as the former Opposition Leader was given permission to use the Opposition Leader’s Office on a rent basis for the next few days due to not having a proper office to conduct his duties as the former leader of the opposition.

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