Deciding on new election date: Must avoid constitutional crisis – Karu Jayasuriya

Karu Jayasuriya

Former Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya yesterday (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 People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, Transparency International Sri Lanka, the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, the National Polls Observation Centre, the Movement for Free and Fair Elections, and the Mothers and Daughters of Lanka have issued a joint press release on taking care not to create a Constitutional crisis in the face of a global catastrophe such as COVID-19.

The release further added that despite the postponement of the election, they have observed that many candidates who are named in the nomination papers are engaged in campaigns to promote their candidacy even during this period, and that they are also aware of the limitations that the Commission has in taking appropriate action.

“There is no hindrance for any candidate to contribute to the relief effort without propaganda related intent. Political party leaders must come forward to control candidates who are trying to politicize even the most humane task.

Sufficient attention should also be paid to the observations and conclusions of the health authorities. It is best to set the dates for the election by ensuring that not a single voter or any official is at risk. It is the responsibility of the Commission to ensure that the candidates have the proper opportunity and adequate propaganda time to conduct their campaign in accordance with the election laws.

We also wish to emphasize that citizens have the right to engage in election related activities at their preference,” the release added.

They further emphasized that democracy is further strengthened not only by proper elections, but also by elections that enable the full participation of all eligible voters.

(Source: Ceylon Today)