SLMC slams unilateral decision to hold elections

The leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem and the Secretary of the Party Nizam Kariapper PC arrived at the Election Commission’s office today and expressed their deep concern over the date announced for the forthcoming Parliamentary Election.

They alleged that fixing of the date for the forthcoming elections on June 20, 2020 without any consultation with political parties, and announcing elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic context situation in the country was “unconstitutional and illegal.”

The letter stated that they were informed towards early evening yesterday, April 20, 2020 of an invitation for a meeting of political party representatives with the Commissioner to be held at 11.30 am on 21-04-2020. Having invited them for a meeting and gazetting the decision to hold elections on June 20, it is improper to contradict the purpose of the said meeting, they said.

In their letter titled “Unconstitutionality of the Gazette Extraordinary No:2172/3-2020 dated 20-04-2020,” addressed to the Chairman and Members of the Election Commission, the duo drew the attention of the Chairman on how they had previously delayed the elections indefinitely owing to the prevailing pandemic then, and how on the contrary, they had hastily decided on a date, now, amidst the pandemic, contradicting his own stance.

Hence, they stated in the letter, that determining June 20, 2020 as the date for elections, by the Election Commission is in complete violation of article 70(3). Hence, it is unconstitutional and ultra-vires of the said article.

The letter also mentioned that there could be no level playing field given that the country was now under curfew and lockdown. Also, the the country will be on lock down from 8.00 pm to 5.00 am from 24th to 27th. They also stated in the letter that uncertainty prevailed over whether curfew would be completely lifted in some areas like in other areas, and if normalcy would return to some areas under surveillance for COVID-19. Besides, these areas they alleged, were earmarked as ones that did not vote in favour of the President at the last elections. Amidst such uncertainty, their letter claimed that there could not be a level playing field ready for electioneering in the near future.

The letter also drew the attention to the WHO’s new guidance issued to governments looking for exit strategies beyond existing lockdown measures dated 16th April 2020.

It further specified that in the current context there are already complaints that the government has politicised the handling and distribution of the essential and relief items to the public. It also pointed out that the Election Commission has also not thought it fit to question how a National Organiser of a political party has been made the head of a task force to deal with essential services during the pandemic. These functions place the political party in government at a clear advantage over all others.

“Being cognizant of these factors, including the prevalent risk to public health, it is patently clear that there cannot be a free and fair election ensured as mandated by the Constitution. Fixing a date of poll in an environment where the poll cannot be free and fair is also unconstitutional,” the letter claimed.

In these circumstances, SLMC registered its protest against the Commission’s mal conduct. They urged the Commission to review its decision and act in compliance with the Constitution and the law. They also claimed in the letter that the current context was not conducive to hold free and fair polls.

“We reiterate that the said fixing of the poll to beheld on 20th June 2020 is unconstitutional and illegal. As a political party that represents vast number of voters we are saddened by the Commission’s act of not taking into consideration of the obvious current situation and the threat that poses to public health is not only unconscionable but also puts the entire population of our country at serious risk of being affected by the contagion. Therefore, we urge the Commission to review its decision and act in compliance with the Constitution and the law,” the statement said.

SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and the Secretary Nizam Kariapper PC, were joined by the Senior Counsel and SLMC’s Head of International Affairs A M Faaiz and former Provincial Councillor M Naeemullah. (Colombo Gazette)

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