All-party meeting to decide on Lanka polls remains inconclusive

Colombo: An all-party meeting convened by Sri Lanka’s election commission to decide whether to hold parliamentary polls in June remained inconclusive, party members said on Wednesday.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the opposition-controlled Parliament on March 2, six months ahead of the 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 polls by nearly two months to June 20 due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 889 people and claimed nine lives in the island nation.

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The new date clashed with the constitutional imperative that the new Parliament has to meet within three months since its dissolution.

Several opposition parties and civil society organisations have filed petitions in the Supreme Court, arguing 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 Elections Commission (EC) on Tuesday convened an all-party meeting to decide whether to hold parliamentary polls in June amid fears that the coronavirus could spread if movement curbs were lifted further.

However, the talks ended without an agreement, the participant said.

“There was representations that democratic rights must be ensured by holding the election,” said Sagara Kariyawasam, general secretary of the ruling SLPP party.

Though COVID-19 restrictions are now being eased in the country, some argue that the election should be put off until the pandemic is under control.

“We are not against holding the election, but it must not be held over dead bodies,” said opposition JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

Several participants also raised concerns that if elections are to be held in June, political parties have to do poll campaigns which would violate all quarantine rules.

They also argue that in view of the health threat caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the conditions for a free and fair poll would not be available.

President Rajapaksa on Monday ordered easing of the lockdown, which was in force since March 20 to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

A 24-hour curfew was lifted on the island, except for Colombo district.

The state and private sector offices were asked to follow strict health guidelines under quarantine ordinance.

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