The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) says it is of the view that all attempts to interfere with the electoral process must not only be defeated but all those responsible for such interference must be dealt with in accordance with the law.
The BASL has issued a statement on the attempts by state authorities to interfere with the franchise of the people.
The statement expresses the BASL’s deep concern over recent attempts by state authorities to disrupt the Local Authorities Elections, which are mandated by law to be held prior to March 19 2023.
The BASL emphasizes that all elections are a vital part of Sri Lanka's democratic process and must not be hindered.
The BASL notes several decisions by the government in recent weeks, purportedly aimed at managing public funds, have had the effect of preventing the Elections Commission from conducting the elections.
These include a demand by the Government Printer for the release of funds prior to the printing of ballot papers and the Secretary to the Treasury claiming that there are no funds available for the elections.
This is despite a budget allocation of Rupees Ten Billion for the purpose of elections The BASL states that the conduct of the Secretary to the Treasury, the Government Printer, and other government officials and institutions over the last few weeks clearly demonstrates a concerted effort to bring the elections to a halt, thus undermining the franchise of the people and endangering the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka.
Such attempts to prevent elections mandated by law represent an unprecedented attack on democracy and the rule of law and pose a grave threat to the electoral process in the future.
The BASL warns that such actions could set a dangerous precedent for an unpopular executive or legislature to obstruct the allocation of resources for an election and prevent the people of Sri Lanka from choosing their representatives and leaders.
The BASL also points out that Article 104 B (2) and 104 GG (1) of the Constitution make it clear that all state authorities are duty bound to cooperate with the Elections Commission and that refusing or failing to do so is a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment.
In terms of Article 33 (c) of the Constitution the President too is empowered to ensure the creation of proper conditions for the conduct of free and fair elections, at the request of the Election Commission.
The Supreme Court in SCFR 35/2016 on December 15, 2017 has clearly explained the importance of conducting timely elections for local authorities and the importance of the franchise as follows:
“Franchise is a fundamental right enjoyed by people. According to Article 3 of the Constitution “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of the government, fundamental rights, and the franchise”.
Franchise is a fundamental right recognized under Article 10 and 14(1) of the Constitution.
The failure to hold elections on the due date or postponing is a violation of fundamental rights of the people.
Under Article 4(d) of the Constitution the fundamental rights which are by Constitution declared and recognized shall be respected, secured and advanced by all organs of the Government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided.
In the present case the legislature as well as the executive had violated this Article. On January 11, 2023, the BASL warned that any move to interfere with the franchise will have far reaching consequences.
Previous attempts by different administrations over the years to interfere with the franchise of the people have resulted in disastrous consequences for the country and its people.
It is the sacred duty of the Government to ensure that funds are provided for the conduct of the elections which are an essential function in the country.
The BASL calls on the government and all State Officials to respect the Constitution and the law and ensure that the Local Authorities Elections are held as scheduled, without any further attempts to disrupt or interfere with the process.
The BASL is of the view that all attempts to interfere with the electoral process must not only be defeated but all those responsible for such interference must be dealt with in accordance with the law.