Apr 29, 2020

Constitutional issues should be settled by SC – HRCSL

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Constitutional issues should be settled by SC – HRCSL

Constitutional issues should be settled by SC – HRCSL
Delayed general election:

The Island, 29 April, 2020

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), yesterday, (28) said the Supreme Court should be consulted on the constitutional issues in respect of the 2020 general election caused due to eruption of covid-19 pandemic.

Asked what would be the HRCSL stand on the current impasse with the Election Commission (EC) fixing 2020 general election for June 20, its Chairperson, Dr. Deepika Udagama said that the HRCSL appreciated the postponement of the polls due to the covid-19 threat.

The polls were originally scheduled for April 25. The Island also asked the HRCSL whether it would write to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, EC and other political parties regarding the continuing crisis.

Dr. Udagama said: “Our Commission, therefore, welcomes the postponement of the election, but is of the view the situation must be carefully assessed by the EC closer to the new election date to determine viability of holding the election in an effective manner so that rights of voters could be fully exercised. The Commission is of the view that any constitutional issue that arises regarding the election process must be resolved conclusively by the Supreme Court, which has the ultimate say over constitutional matters. That is important for the Rule of Law.” She emphasized that she expressed the views of the Commission arrived at through consultation and discussions.

Regarding the issues relating to the 2020 general elections, the HRCSL respected the mandate of the EC in conducting national elections and its corresponding powers and functions, Dr. Udagama said.

Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have declared that it would the EC’s responsibility to set the date for the election in the wake of the postponing of the election. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is on record as having said that there was no need for him to consult the Supreme Court in this regard. Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the President saidso when he responded to EC recommendation President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sought SC’s advice.

The HRCSL Chairperson said that setting dates for elections was not a matter for the Commission to interfere in, unless the date set deprived the electorate of the right to freely participate in the electoral process. “That includes not only the ability to go out and vote on Election Day, but also the ability to participate in election campaigns and in the exchange of ideas and views essential to forming one’s political choice. If the election was held on April 25 as declared earlier, our Commission would have certainly made representations to relevant authorities given the serious limitations voters would have been subjected to due to the Covid- 19 pandemic. In such circumstances, the safety of hundreds of election officials and the limitations they would face in discharging their functions effectively would also be of deep concern to the Commission.”

The Island also sought an explanation as to how the HRCSL fulfilled its mandate against the backdrop of a commission member, Ambika Satkunanathan, quitting to contest from the Jaffna district on Tamil National Alliance (TNA) ticket. The Island also asked how the HRCSL functioned in the absence of the Constitutional Council, the required quorum for HRCSL to meet and since Dr. Udagama took over the HRCSL, how many members had left.

Dr. Udagama said that the Constitutional Council continued to function in spite of the dissolution of parliament on March 02 until the conclusion of the General Election as per Article 41 A (7) (a &b) of the Constitution. “According to provisions of the HRCSL parent statute, Act No.21 of 1996, there are to be five members on the Commission. There are currently four members on the Commission. Existence of a vacancy among its members does not in any manner invalidate acts or proceedings of the Commission. The parent statute does not stipulate a quorum for meetings of HRCSL. However, the practice is that all decisions are made in an extremely participatory manner at Board meetings of the Commission which are consistently well attended.”

Since the appointment of Commissioners in terms of the 19th Amendment beginning 2015, Commissioner Saliya Peiris left pursuant to his appointment as Chairman, Office on Missing Persons (OMP); Commissioner Dr. Upananda Vidanapathirana resigned in August 2019 citing an urgent family commitment and Commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan resigned in March, 2020, the HRCSL Chairperson said.

Article published on The Island.lk:
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