Sri Lanka will hold its parliamentary elections on August 5, which were delayed more than three months due to the coronavirus crisis.
Originally, the election was scheduled for April 25, but was postponed to June 20 due to health problems related to COVID-19. The June elections were postponed again for the same reason.
The August date was announced after Sri Lanka began easing its confinement restrictions.
Sri Lanka is better containing the spread of COVID-19 compared to its South Asian neighbors. As of June 21, the country had registered 1950 infections of the virus and 11 deaths, with the number of active cases decreasing and the number of deaths stable for a few weeks.
# COVID19 in Southasia: New confirmed cases reported in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 693,586 total cases and 17,827 deaths in Southasia as of 19 June 2020, 1.00 pm UTC. #Coronavirus #Southasia pic.twitter.com/9KTEobpD6x
– Himal Southasian (@Himalistan) June 19, 2020
COVID-19 in South Asia: New confirmed cases registered in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 693 586 cases in total and 17 827 deaths as of June 19, 2020, 1:00 p.m. UTC. coronavirus. South of Asia.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected in the 2019 elections, used his constitutional power to dissolve Parliament on March 2. This was six months ahead of schedule, he insisted that it was necessary as the opposition-dominated Parliament was undermining its power. One of the objectives of Rajapaksa's party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), is to win back the majority in the 255-member Parliament. He called an early election on April 25 that many deemed inappropriate since the country is facing a pandemic.
Human rights lawyer Bhavani Fonseka tweeted about an appeal to postpone the election:
The Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) is urging the Election Commission to postpone General Election 2020 scheduled for April 25, 2020, in light of the escalating CORVID-19 pandemic @cmev # COVID19 #coronavirus #SriLanka #lka https://t.co/sv9scZfJP4
– Bhavani Fonseka (@bfonseka) March 17, 2020
The Center for the Control of Electoral Violence asks to postpone the 2020 general elections – CMEV urges the Sri Lanka Electoral Commission to postpone the 2020 general elections scheduled for April 25, 2020, in light of the growing COVID pandemic- 19.
The Center for the Control of Electoral Violence (CMEV) urges the Electoral Commission to postpone the 2020 General Elections scheduled for April 25 in the face of the growing pandemic of COVID-19. COVID-19. CORONAVIRUSES. SRI LANKA. IKA.
Amid calls from the opposition and civil society to postpone the elections, Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya announced an indefinite postponement of the March 19 elections, due to the threat of COVID-19.
Harim Peiris writes on Groundviews about the statement:
Given that the electoral process requires a mass domestic human migration or movement of people and that campaigning makes social distancing impossible, the decision of the Elections Commission was inevitable. Perhaps in hindsight, the hasty dissolution of parliament when Covid-19 was known as a global pandemic was unwise.
Given that the electoral process requires massive internal human migration or a movement of people and that the campaign makes social distancing impossible, the decision of the Electoral Commission was inevitable. In hindsight, perhaps the hasty dissolution of Parliament was risky when COVID-19 was recognized as a pandemic.
On March 22, Sri Lanka imposed a strict confinement seven weeks to prevent soaring of COVID-19 cases.
On April 20, the Electoral Commission announced that the parliamentary elections would be postponed to June 20.
Analysts immediately pointed out that the new election date violates a constitutional provision requiring that the election be held within three months of the dissolution of Parliament. Asanga Welikala wrote about it on Groundviews:
The Constitution requires even a dissolved Parliament to be recalled in an emergency to fulfil the requirements of legislative oversight of the executive (including the exercise of any emergency powers), and to approve appropriations of public funds for government expenditure. The President, however, has steadfastly refused to do so. Coupled with this refusal, the practical inability to hold an election during the pandemic has resulted in the Election Commission having to set 20 June as the new date for the election. This is a date that is prima facie in breach of the constitutional stipulation that an election must be held, and a new Parliament must meet, within three months of the date of the dissolution of the old Parliament.
The Constitution requires that even a dissolved Parliament be convened during an emergency to meet the Executive's legislative oversight requirements (including the exercise of any emergency powers) and to approve allocations of public funds for public spending. However, the President flatly refused. Along with this refusal, the practical impossibility of holding elections during the pandemic has resulted in the Electoral Commission having to set June 20 as the new date for the elections. This is a date that, at first glance, does not comply with the constitutional stipulation that elections must be held and that the new Parliament must meet within three months from the date of dissolution of the old Parliament.
Many questioned the feasibility of holding an election during a pandemic; They also accused the Government of mobilizing the Army to consolidate power. Tisaranee Gunasekara warned of the dangers of militarizing the response to COVID-19:
The danger of holding an election in such an atmosphere is obvious. The government will not hesitate to arrest opposition activists and voters for violating this or that anti-virus rule while giving a free pass to its own supporters. But postponing the election repeatedly carries its own dangers. It will habituate the president into acting outside the constitution and strengthen those who are advocating Gotabaya rule.
The danger of holding an election in this atmosphere is obvious. The government will not hesitate to arrest opposition activists and voters for violating this or that norm against the virus, while giving free rein to its own supporters. For his part, also repeatedly postponing the elections carries its own risks: it will make the president accustomed to acting outside the Constitution and will strengthen those who advocate for the government of Gotabaya.
On June 2, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka dismissed a series of petitions challenging the Electoral Commission's decision to hold the elections on June 20; what many considered a vindication of Rajapakshe's actions to dissolve Parliament and his refusal to convene the parliamentary session.
– Shanika Somatilake (@Nikshazz) June 7, 2020
Maurata drawing. Sri Lankan Constitution. Sri Lanka. LK.
However, educator Dr. Asanga Welikala disagrees with the court's decision:
Sri Lanka enters contra-constitutional rule today, June 2, 2020.
No Parliament elected and meeting. No legally scheduled date for election or meeting of another Parliament.
The Constitution set aside, when there’ll be another Parliament is now at the sole discretion of one man.
– Dr Asanga Welikala (@welikalaa) June 2, 2020
Today, June 2, 2020, Sri Lanka enters a counter-constitutional regime.
There is no Parliament elected and assembled. There is no legally scheduled date for the election or meeting of another Parliament.
The Constitution has been set aside. When there will be another Parliament remains, now, at the discretion of one man.
On June 10, the president of the Electoral Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya, announced that the election date would be rescheduled, for the second time, for August 5.
The health guidelines during the election
Along with the announcement of the August 5 elections, the Electoral Commission also published its sanitary guidelines to carry out the election in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. The main ones include:
- Wear face masks inside the voting center
- Keep a distance of one meter in the lines for voting
- Access to those who have not completed quarantine is not allowed
- Capacity limited to one hundred people in electoral propaganda meetings
- Meeting participants must wear a face mask and maintain social distance in seating assignments
- Parades are not allowed
- Leaflet distribution is not promoted
So far, the Electoral Commission has organized two electoral drills to test people's readiness during the pandemic.
LOOK: The Asian Network for Free Elections (@Anfrel) is at the Menerigama Primary School in Kalutara District today, June 14, 2020 to observe the mock poll of the Election Commission of #SriLanka. #Election pic.twitter.com/HnbW0M3Wlc
– ANFREL (@Anfrel) June 14, 2020
MIRA: Today, June 14, 2020, the Asian Network for Free Elections is at Menerigama Elementary School in Kalutara District to observe the election simulation of the Sri Lankan Election Commission. Choice.
Many candidates are spending money on social media ads for their political campaigns. According to reports, Facebook will publish information on the advertising spending of Sri Lankan political candidates.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has decided not to send a full-fledged observer mission to the August 5 elections due to COVID-19.
Very worrying. Amid rampant militarization + repression of dissent in Sri Lanka- and just 9 mos after an election which saw a large # of electoral violations, incl voter intimidation – a Parliamentary poll w / o meaningful ext monitoring carries huge risks https://t.co / PKYJLQTwM2
– Sri Lanka Campaign (@SLcampaign) June 19, 2020
The European Union decides not to send an observer mission. Only three experts, probably by COVID-19.
Very disturbing. In the midst of rampant militarization and crackdown on dissidents in Sri Lanka, and just nine months after an election with many electoral violations – including intimidation of voters – a parliamentary election without significant outside oversight carries enormous risks.
Now that Sri Lanka is preparing to reopen its borders to tourism on August 1 as a step toward normalcy, it remains to be seen how free and fair the elections will be.