All three members of Sri Lanka’s Election Commission (EC) believe that President Maithripala Sirisena violated the constitution when he issued a Proclamation to dissolve Parliament and called for elections, according to Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, who is one of the Commission members.
Prof. Hoole, however, is the only member of the EC who is taking action. He filed a Fundamental Rights Petition in the Supreme Court today challenging the President’s Proclamation.
According to Prof. Hoole, the other two members of the Commission, Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya and Mr. N.J. Abeysekara, have not publicly voiced their objections because they believe that it is inappropriate for them to challenge the President in their role as civil servants. They instead decided to sign over responsibility for initial election preparations to the Commissioner General of Elections, M.A.P.C. Perera, so that they would not have to participate in any illegal processes. Hoole also said that Abeysekara is considering resigning from the Commission.
A spokesman for Deshapriya said that he could not comment on Hoole’s claims. other than to say that Deshapriya “has not made any statements to the media that would indicate he believes the president has acted unconstitutionally.” Deshpariya previously told The Hindu that “the President has the powers to fix the date for elections in his proclamation.”
Independent legal experts have consistently argued that that the constitution only allows the president to unilaterally dissolve parliament within the last six months of Parliament’s five-year term, meaning that Sirisena would not have the sole authority to dissolve Parliament until March 2020. Dissolving Parliament any earlier would require the President to obtain the support of a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Hoole’s petition points out that if the President was able to dissolve Parliament “at his whims and fancies” it would “result in a series of Parliamentary elections until his desire is achieved.”
Hoole was one of several parties to challenge the dissolution of Parliament at the Supreme court on Monday. The Center for Policy Alternatives also filed a Fundamental Rights petition, as did several political parties, including the United National Party (UNP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamil Progressive Alliance.
Attorney-At-Law Luwie Niranjan Ganeshathasan says that it is important that all three Election Commission members retain their posts in case the Supreme Court rules that Parliamentary elections are constitutional.
“If the Supreme Court rules that president can dissolve parliament, the Election Commission can’t do much to delay elections. But the Election Commissioners can do a lot to ensure fair elections,” he said.
Editor’s Note: To read more about the current political situation, click here.