Colombo: Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has set May 17 and 18 as the dates to hear the seven petitions filed by the opposition parties and the civil society against the dissolution of Parliament by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Gotabaya on March 2 dissolved Parliament, six months ahead of schedule, and called a snap election on April 25 to elect a new 225-member House.
However, the election commission in mid-April postponed the parliamentary elections by nearly two months to June 20 due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 863 people and claimed nine lives in the island nation.
The new date clashed with the constitutional imperative that the new Parliament has to meet within three months since its dissolution. Most petitions filed by the opposition parties and civil society argue that according to the Constitution the elections must be held and a new Parliament must be summoned within three months of the dissolution order.
The apex court set May 17 and 18 as dates to hear the seven petitions, court officials said. The petitioners say as per the prevailing situation, the country would be deprived of a parliament for a period beyond the maximum permissible limit of three months. As per the Constitution, the new Parliament must be summoned by June 2.
The petitioners also claim that due to the restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic, the conditions to hold a free and fair election will be hampered as parties would not be able to campaign freely.
In the court, the lawyers for the petitioners sought an interim relief by way of an order on the election commission to stop all preparatory work for the polls until the cases are heard. However, the court refused to grant an interim order until all parties represented their case.
On April 27, seven opposition parties urged President Gotabaya to summon the dissolved Parliament while pledging cooperation to tackle the pandemic. Gotabaya rejected the Opposition's call to reconvene the House, saying they were trying to make a political gain at a time when the pandemic has hit the country.
The opposition parties also argued that Gotabaya had no power to draw public finances after April 30, the date till which the dismissed Parliament had approved expenditure by the president. Gotabaya maintained that he still had the power to draw money from the consolidated fund.
Over 16.2 million voters are eligible to vote to elect 196 members under proportional representation and a further 29 members on national cumulative votes of each party based on proportional representation.
Gotabaya, who was elected as President in November, was keen to hold fresh elections for a mandate to implement his policies. He was seeking 150 seats or the two thirds in the 225-member assembly.