Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary General elections scheduled for April 25 have been indefinitely postponed due to the COVID19 pandemic the country’s Chief Elections Commissioner (CEC) said.
CEC Mahinda Deshapriya told reporters Thursday that the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of the virus have hampered government workers from carrying out their duties and therefore the essential preparations for the poll have not been made.
“If the World Health Organisation says everything is clear today we cannot hold the elections on the 25th,” Deshapriya said. “It is not logistically possible.”
Deshapriya explained that the Commission could not announce the decision to put off the poll until nominations closed, according to the law.
The nominations closed at noon Thursday and the announcement of the postponement was made at 2:00 pm.
The Commission, he said, “does not have to consult anyone, but we did discuss the issue with Health Authorities and others including the police.”
The government has asked workers in the state and private sectors to “work from home” for another week from today.
The power to postpone elections lies with the Commission under a 1981 Act. “However the people who drafted the never envisaged such a worldwide emergency as this one,” Deshapriya said.
“So these are unforeseen circumstances which are however dealt within the law,” Adviser to the Commission M A M Mohamed told EconomyNext.
Deshapriya says he has hope that the Presidential Task Force dealing with the virus “will be able to bring it under control, but right now we cannot say when.”
“Only COVID19 itself can decide when we can hold the elections,” Deshapriya said.
Postponing the elections has become a political issue. Government representatives have been saying that the elections should not be postponed.
The governing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna wants to take the momentum of the Presidential elections in which its candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa won with a handy majority into the Parliamentary poll.
But already that excitement has waned with the caretaker government under Rajapaksa struggles with the rising cost of living and economic malaise compounded by the COVID19 crisis.
Sri Lanka’s stock market has suffered the same way other Asian markets have tanked. Foreign investors have left in droves and the Sri Lankan Rupee has fallen against the US dollar.
The Opposition has argued that the election should be set aside “to save the lives of our people.”
Former Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition Sajith Premadasa had argued that President Rajapaksas should reconvene the recently dissolved Parliament and provide the facilities that state machinery needs to deal with the pandemic.
Sri Lanka has recorded a few more than fifty confirmed cases and no deaths as of Thursday.
However, due to lax controls many people, most returnees from Europe mainly Italy, have escaped quarantine in state-run centres.
Several hundred of these potential carriers of the virus are in the population and the WHO has already declared Sri Lanka as a country that is now being subjected to domestic transmission of the COVID19 virus.
Police teams assisted by Military Intelligence units are trying to find these people and impose quarantine on them, senior officials have said.
Several people who have been now confirmed as COVID19 cases have had several hundred contacts in the past week. Some of them have attended social events that had large crowds attending them such as the Royal-Thomian Cricket game.
“We are trying to trace the contacts,” the Director-General of Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe said on Wednesday.