Professor G.L. Peirce is a constitutional scholar. His position is that the current government’s attempt to postpone the local government election is unconstitutional. He points out that the local government election can only be postponed by a referendum. Mr. G.L. Peiris’s comments to on that to the media today are as follows.
Whether the local government elections will be held or not is a matter that has been the subject of much debate in some places. There is no doubt about that. Local government elections must be held. The Election Commission has issued a notification that the date for accepting nominations will be announced this week. After that, the entire procedure has been clearly defined by the law. The Election Commission says that it will announce the date for accepting nominations in the next few days.
A mandatory requirement of the law is that all 340 local government bodies across the country should be established and finalized before March 30. To do so, this election should be held at the end of February or beginning of March. There is no doubt about that. It must happen in the legal system of Sri Lanka. At the same time, the Election Commission has declared that the Election Commission is bound to fulfil the tasks assigned to them by the Constitution to the fullest extent without any defects. They have given a clear promise to the country.
But at the same time, according to the announcement published in the newspapers, the Election Commission has said that if the Parliament passes a resolution in this regard, the Election Commission will have to postpone the election and comply with it. If the Election Commission has made such a statement, it is not a correct statement.
That is because the Supreme Court has stated very clearly in several cases that the Parliament has no discretion in this matter. There is one court decision specifically regarding the local government election. A referendum should be held to postpone the election. It is absolutely impossible to postpone the election through a parliamentary resolution without holding a referendum. The reason for that is that the sovereignty of Sri Lanka rests not in the Parliament, but in the hands of the people. Parliament has no role in that regard. Elections must be held according to these dates. The Supreme Court has declared that if a change is made in that regard, a referendum must be held.
Now we can see that a very surprising argument has been presented from some places. Government ministers and government spokespersons have said that there is no money to hold the election. That is why the election has to be postponed. No government in any country has ever presented such an absurd argument. If we allow this argument, it is the demise of democracy. After that, there is no democracy in our country even at the minimum level. Today’s president is a succession president. The successor President has been appointed by the Parliament to serve the unpaid part of the term of office of the President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
That means for about two and a half years. At the end of that period, if the succeeding president says that the presidential election cannot be held and that there is no money for it, then what will happen? A president who has never been appointed by the people and who has not received any kind of mandate from the people can continue to act as president. Appointed for a limited time. That period ends in November of the next year.
Then by November of the next year, the succeeding president will say that the country has no money to hold the presidential election. And what is the result? That means that the successor president, the president who did not get any mandate from the people, can continue to hold that position. And the parliament is appointed for a limited time. For five years. Then when the time comes to hold the parliamentary elections, you can present that argument in the same way. There are other needs; there is no money to hold the election, so the parliament that has been elected for 5 years can continue to try to stay in power without holding an election.
Such a situation cannot be accepted in any democratic country. Elections should be held on time. If this is not done, such a government cannot be considered as a democratic government at all.
The other is the money issue. Government has unlimited amount of money for all other activities. There is no defect. Money deficit is talked about only in relation to elections. President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ruled the country for a year without appointing a single state minister. But this government has appointed 39 state ministers. Think for a moment how much wealth has to be used for that. That is the amount that has to be spent for the ministers’ salaries, allowances, official vehicles, fuel, foreign travel, personal staff etc.
Now there is news that 12 more cabinet ministers are going to be appointed. Then there is no problem with spending a lot of money to appoint cabinet ministers and state ministers. The government is ready to do that.
What is the total cost of the local government election? 10 billion rupees. What is the government expenditure for the year 2023? Approximately 7,600 billion rupees. Spending 10 out of this 7,600 has become a huge problem today. How much money does this government print every day? How many trillions are printed? Why is a government that does not hesitate to print unlimited money to appoint state ministers and cabinet ministers for their respective expenses, why is it so reluctant to spend this 10 billion? We cannot accept that argument at all.
One of the most important jobs of a government is to make sure there are enough funds to hold elections on time. Allocating that money is essential. We have filed a case in the Supreme Court in this regard. There are two petitions. That case will be heard on January 18. We want the court to order the Election Commission to hold the election the way the law says it should be done.
If they don’t do that, we will launch a four-way eviction program. First in Parliament, second, across the country. Thirdly, the relevant remedies are requested before the court. Fourthly, in front of the international community, we form a strong opinion that a planned and deliberate program is being launched in this way to destroy democracy in Sri Lanka. We believe that the opposition party will fully participate in that program.
Then, according to the current situation, it is very clear that this local government election must be held before March 20th. But it is not done willingly but very reluctantly. When every trick fails, the government has to hold this election unwillingly because there is no other option. Accordingly, it is very clear that when the election campaign starts, the government has accepted that it will suffer an extreme defeat.
The other now says that there is a division within the Election Commission. A blatant lie. The published gazette has been signed by all five members of the commission. Next, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance said that there was no money to hold the vote. These are news releases from one place.