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Sri Lanka’s top court dismisses petitions challenging poll date

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed all the petitions challenging the poll date fixed by the Election Commission, and the gazette issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolving Parliament.

The Election Commission had earlier fixed all-island parliamentary elections to be held on April 25. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EC postponed the general polls to June 20. However, Opposition parties and civil society representatives challenged the revised date, through at least eight petitions, flagging possible public health risks in holding polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Tuesday evening, Sri Lanka has reported 1,643 cases, 823 recoveries and 11 deaths.

The EC is expected to convene soon to decide on a new poll date. “We have already told the Court that the Commission will be able to hold polls only after public health authorities tell us it is safe to do so,” said Ratnajeevan Hoole, an Election Commissioner. “Once health officials clear this, we will need at least 60 to 70 days’ time to make poll arrangements,” he told The Hindu, following the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Further, the petitioners also sought relief on the President’s March 2 proclamation dissolving Parliament and calling snap polls. Citing Article 70 (5) of Sri Lanka’s Constitution, they argued the Parliament had to be summoned not later than three months after the proclamation dissolving the House – by June 2, that is — to avert a “constitutional crisis”. After hearing the case for 10 full days, the apex court on Tuesday dismissed all the petitions, as well as the preliminary objections raised by the respondents. The apex court is yet to give reasons for its decision.

Speaking to media persons after the ruling, senior lawyer and former parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, who appeared for one of the petitioners, said: “The struggle to restore democracy will continue.”

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