Sri Lanka – Easing of Corona Lockdown and Parliamentary Elections
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, a veteran leader who has also been a two-time President has appealed to the Elections Commission to hold the parliamentary polls soonest just as the government announced easing of the lockdown on 20 April.
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 said the PM and noted that 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 based on the progress or regress of the corona virus.
Sri Lankan government has eased the lockdown in the state on 20 April issuing detailed instructions for conduct of economic and business activity.
The country has 368 COVID 19 cases as of 23 April with an increase of 38 on the day, never the less this is a risk that the government appears to be willing to take and one of the reasons for the early easing of lockdown in the country is the hustings.
As Colonel R Hariharan writes in the monthly column Sri Lanka Perspectives of March 2019, “COVID-19 pandemic has derailed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s carefully crafted plan to hold the parliamentary elections on April 25 to win two-thirds majority in parliament elections to repeal 19th Amendment (19A) to the Constitution which curbed presidential powers”.
In the face of the pandemic threat, the Election Commission (EC) was left with no other option but to indefinitely postpone the election, though it took the decision only on March 19 after deadline for filing nominations ended. The government which had ordered the closure of the schools a week earlier, considered it politically expedient to go ahead with the election and did not agree to postpone it.The virus threat has skewed President Gotabaya’s political pitch.
Moreover, its fall out has become a major challenge for him. The voters are more likely to judge President Gotabaya and SLPP upon how effectively the government handles the virus threat, rather than the past record of Rajapaksas in eliminating the LTTE threat,” says Col Hariharan a noted Sri Lanka expert.
Given the impact of government action to contain the corona virus, PM Rajapakse also outline how the government has tackled the same in his statement indicating, “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”.
So will the Election Commission issue directions for holding polls and how will this impact the prospects of the SLPP in gaining a majority in the parliament remains to be seen?