Avatar Centre for Policy Alternatives on 3 April, 2020

CPA Statement on the Election Commission’s Request for a Special Reference by the President to the Supreme Court on the Law Relating to Parliamentary Elections

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3rd April 2020, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) notes several news reports on the Election Commission’s concerns that it will be unable to hold parliamentary elections within the time-period stipulated by law due to the Covid-19 crisis. The Commission has accordingly requested the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court to clarify the law in relation to the next steps in these circumstances.

CPA has already raised concerns regarding the absence of a functioning Parliament and highlighted the implications of this on public finance and oversight over the Government’s response to the Covid–19 pandemic. The course of action most consistent with the Constitution is to summon the dissolved Parliament, which can continue until the end of August 2020. CPA notes that this is also the course of action that would be most in line with protecting public health and the citizens’ right to franchise. We are therefore of the opinion that this can be done without the need for a Special Reference by the President to the Supreme Court.

If in the event H.E. the President makes a special reference to the Supreme Court in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution, CPA calls on the President to allow the Court adequate time to consider the complicated issues concerned. The prevailing restrictions on movement which should neither prevent a hearing for all stakeholders nor hinder the Court’s deliberations. Considering the public importance of the issue, CPA further calls on the President to request the Supreme Court to make its opinion public, or undertake to make the opinion public himself.

Further, CPA calls on the Hon. Chief Justice and the other Judges of the Supreme Court to use their discretion in terms of Article 129 to ensure that the proceedings of Court are open to all parties interested to make submissions to Court. In a context where the Supreme Court’s sittings have been suspended until 27th April 2020, this would require the Court to actively inform citizens of any pending proceedings.