Religious, community references to be deleted from elections bill

By Chandani Kirinde

When the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill is debated next week, the government, in compliance with Supreme Court recommendations, will delete the sections relating to the naming of political parties after religions and communities.

The Supreme Court last week determined that several clauses in the Bill, including one that prohibited political parties from using names that signified a religion or an ethnic community, violated fundamental rights guaranteed in the Sri Lanka Constitution.

The Court recommended that the words “ … or signifies any religion or community … ” be deleted from the Bill. However, the section that required political parties to provide annual audited statements of accounts and details of donations received was consistent with the Constitution, the Court ruled.

Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, who heads the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms, said the Bill would be passed once the amendments were made. “These amendments are based on recommendations made by the Parliamentary Committee, and the Court has suggested only a few changes, and we will comply with them,” Mr. Gunawardena told the Sunday Times.

The Bill was challenged in the Supreme Court by several political parties, including the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP).

The Court also ruled as unconstitutional the section dealing with the de-recognition of political parties that failed to have at least one member elected at a general election and at least three at a provincial election, or those that had not been engaged in continued political activity for four successive years.

The petitioners claimed that this section did not provide for the forming of political parties based on political alliances. “In recent times it has become common for political parties to form alliances among parties and contest under an alliance which will be a new political party for the purpose of election,” the petitioners said.

The Court observed that this section, in its present form, did not recognise an alliance, and was therefore inconsistent with the Constitution.

The petitioners had also challenged the section of the Bill that required that the annual statement of accounts of every recognised political party be published in newspapers in all three languages and a copy be sent to the Commissioner of Elections.

The Bill required that the statements should contain details of donations in cash or kind received by the political parties, including the amounts and the names and addresses of donors.

The petitioners said such provisions were an unfair burden on political parties. It was argued in court that recognised political parties enjoyed a host of privileges under the Parliamentary Elections Act and other electoral laws, all at public expense.

The Court ruled, however, that this section of the Bill was not inconsistent with the Constitution.
The petitioners are Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) general secretary, MP M. T. Hassan Ali; Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs Mavai Senathirajah and Gajendreakumar Ponammbalam, MP Mangala Samaraweera, and Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) deputy secretary Wimal Rodrigo. The bench comprised Chief Justice Asoka de Silva and Justices K. Sripavan and P. A. Ratnayake.

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