Elections needed for a stable Government | Daily News

Elections needed for a stable Government

Polls are a vital feature of democracy
Polls are a vital feature of democracy

Amidst tackling the COVID-19 epidemic, a controversy on the General Elections brewed up. On March 2, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by the Executive power vested on him by the Constitution dissolved the Parliament. Thereafter, President declared elections on April 25 and for the new Parliament to convene on May 14.

Soon after Parliament was dissolved, Sri Lanka was named as the second safest destination by the British travel company, PC Agency.

March 11 turned out to be significant because the first Sri Lankan to be infected with COVID-19 was found on this day. This was the same day that WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Yet, on March 12 political parties began to nominate their candidates. Nominations were concluded on March 19. By this time, the number of infected had steadily risen to 59, though no one at this point had succumbed to the virus. On this same day, the Chairman of the Election Commission postponed the elections, but without announcing the new date. He deduced that the prevailing conditions were not conducive to conduct an election.

It is noteworthy that South Korea went ahead with their General Elections on April 15. They had over 10,000 COVID-19 infected patients and nearly 250 deaths. On the day of the election, they had 27 new cases and 3 deaths. Still, the voter turnout was 66 percent. The earlier highest voter turnout in South Korea was in 1992 with 71 percent.

Even in Sri Lanka, elections had to be often held during extreme conditions. Until the annihilation of terrorism with the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, large gatherings had its own risks. The LTTE chose rallies, processions and meetings to detonate suicide bombers. In 1991, the LTTE assassinated the Indian Prime Minister aspirant Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally in India. In 1999, during an election rally, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga lost vision in her right eye after an LTTE suicide bomber detonated himself, targeting her. She narrowly escaped death. In 1989, the JVP that has become an insurgent force threatened to kill the first voter. Yet, throughout these periods of turbulence Parliament Elections were conducted in years 1989, 1994, 2000, 2001 and 2004.

With this decision to indefinitely postpone the 2020 General Elections, the Opposition parties demanded that the Parliament should be reconvened. The President on the other hand reiterated on a number of occasions that he will not do so.

At the time of the discussion between President and his Principal Advisor Lalith Weeratunga on the key concerns vis a vis the COVID-19 crisis on April 20, the new election date was yet to be declared.

“There needs to be a stable Government,” Weeratunga pointed out during this discussion that was aired on television.

Explaining his position on the matter, the President first highlighted the reason to call for elections at the very first opportunity.

“On November 16, 2019, over 6.9 million democratically voted me into Office to execute my manifesto ‘Vistas of Prosperity & Splendor’,” explained President Gotabaya. “However, I had to work with the Parliament elected in August 2015, even if it did not represent the present public opinion. Without a majority in Parliament, I had to form a minority Government.”

The President noted that even at the time of assuming Office, the country was already facing a severe economic crisis. As the previous government had not even passed a budget for year 2020, expenses were approved on a vote on account basis.

“To implement the policies in my manifesto, I needed a budget or at least an interim budget approved,” said President. “We had planned to allocate more funds for education, develop technology and agriculture, generate more employment opportunities and rebuild the collapsed economy.”

Yet, when the new Cabinet sought to approve funds to meet even the expenses incurred by the past Government, the Opposition did not approve it. This nailed the need for a Government that will allow the President to carry out his mandate. Accordingly, the President dissolved Parliament to form a new Parliament without further delay.

“Accordingly, the Election Commission was vested with the complete freedom and power to conduct an independent election,” noted President. “Both the Election Commission and I are beholden to the people to uphold their democratic right to elect their representatives by holding timely elections. This is our duty and responsibility.”

However, after the Election Commission declared that elections could not be held as planned and postponed it indefinitely, a confusion arose as to the next step.

“According to the Constitution, the new Parliament must convene within three months of dissolving Parliament,” the President explained. “Then, the new Parliament must meet by June 02.”

Thus, as elections were indefinitely postponed there was an expectation among the Opposition political parties that the President must reconvene the dissolved Parliament. However, this is not possible, observed the President.

“I do not have the legal sanction to recall the old Parliament,” President stated.

The Constitution stipulates that the President must convene the new Parliament. Hence, if a new Parliament does not exist by this deadline, then the new Parliament cannot be called simply because it does not yet exist. The law does not expect to do the impossible (lex non cogit ad impossibilia).

“I have done everything so far constitutionally and have announced the date for the new Parliament to be convened,” noted the President. “Unless a new Parliament is elected by June 2, I will not be able to summon it. It has to be done on a future date.”

The onus of conducting elections appropriately is with the independent Election Commission, the President stated.

“I will not pressurize the independent Election Commission to hold or postpone elections,” he emphasized. “The Election Commission has wide powers regarding holding elections under the current Constitution. If they want, they can take several days for the election.”

The President further noted that, “To date, my Administration has taken all the necessary steps to curb the COVID-19 crisis. A number of groups including all the major parties in the country have submitted their nominations correctly for the election. Therefore, the responsibility of holding the elections is now with the independent Election Commission. The government has given them all the legislative support they needed in this regard. I am ready to call the new Parliament once the election is over and MPs are elected.”

The very next day since this discussion, the Chairman of the Election Commission rescheduled the General Elections for June 20, 2020.

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