A ray of hope

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The Supreme Court (SC) has issued an interim order preventing the Secretary to the Finance Ministry and others from withholding funds allocated by Budget 2023 for elections. The order is in respect of a petition filed by SJB General Secretary and MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara, requesting the court to rule that the Secretary to the Finance Ministry and other state officials had violated the fundamental rights of the people by refusing to release budgetary allocations for elections.

The apex court interim order is certainly most welcome, and will go a long way towards safeguarding the people’s franchise and preventing political upheavals. Police attacks on protests against the postponement of the local government (LG) polls have already left one person dead, and speculation is rife that the worst is yet to come.

The SC interim order could not have come at a better time for the Election Commission (EC), which shows signs of having rallied from the Executive’s hostile action that scuttled its efforts to conduct the LG polls elections on 09 March. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has rendered the EC toothless to all intents and purposes, just like all other ‘independent’ commissions. It is heartening to see the EC fighting back.

The EC met yesterday to decide on a fresh date for the much-delayed LG polls and its decision is expected to be announced next week. It is no doubt following the procedure established by the law, but its efforts will not yield the desired results unless they receive judicial backing, for President Wickremesinghe is determined to derail elections.

Two petitions filed in the SC, by Prof. G. L. Peiris and others, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the EC to hold the LG polls had to be terminated on 10 Feb. 2023 because of the EC’s declaration that the elections would be held on 09 March. The SC held that there was no need to hear the petitions, given the EC’s undertaking, and allowed them to be withdrawn, but subsequently President Wickremesinghe prevented the Treasury from releasing funds for the EC, which informed the SC that it was not in a position to conduct the LG polls for want of money.

Everybody knew that President Wickremesinghe and the government, which fears elections, would go the whole hog to derail the polls, but the EC had the public believe that it would hold the elections regardless of the obstacles in its path; unfortunately, it could not make good on its promise. One can only hope that the SC intervention will prevent a similar situation from arising again, and, more importantly, the government will not try to contrive a workaround.

The government is trying to reconstitute the EC, and its plan must be thwarted lest it should appoint a bunch of stooges as the EC members to serve its interests. The Constitutional Council has lost its meaning; it has simply become a handmaid of the Executive, and is ready to do the President’s bidding. Therefore, the Opposition is right in having invoked the jurisdiction of the SC in a bid to enable the EC to conduct the LG polls, and holding public protests to pressure the government to keep its hands off the electoral process.

The government’s autocratic action has to be challenged on both legal and political fronts if it is to be defeated decisively, and the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of the people are to be safeguarded. The EC proposes and the President disposes. Only the judiciary is equal to the task of preventing the government from trifling with the people’s franchise and resorting to a course of action that will plunge the country into anarchy

Courtesy The Island

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