ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s upcoming local government elections still appears to be hanging in the balance with the date of the election yet to be gazetted and the cabinet spokesman pointing to the country’s dire financial situation when asked to comment.
Minister Bandula Gunawardena told reporters at the weekly cabinet press briefing on Tuesday January 24 that the cabinet of ministers has not discussed delaying the election but the government has informed the election commission and the courts that “this is a very challenging situation”.
The minister said the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Sri Lanka’s state-run utility provider, was struggling to supply electricity while the state-run Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) was also finding it difficult to run the bus service.
“Fuel is also supplied under the QR code system at a limited rate. There is no way to increase the fuel allocation for someone to go to election work even on a motorbike,” said Gunawardena.
Opposition lawmakers, however, contend that the complaint about fuel and electricity is a last-ditch attempt by the government to delay the local government polls, which the opposition says the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will lose badly.
Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) national organiser Tissa Attanayake said the government was trying to run away from the election.
“They’ve been trying different tactics but so far have been unable to find a constitutional means of delaying the polls,” said Attanayake.
“The latest tactic is to claim that they can’t provide security or that they can’t issue funds,” the MP said referring to an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court by the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration that the Treasury was finding it difficult to find funds for the election.
“And now they’re saying they can’t provide fuel or electricity,” said Attanayake, claiming that it was an attempt at sabotage.
Though Sri Lanka’s election commission has announced a date for the local government polls – March 09 – an official gazette has yet to be announced, and a number of government officials from the president downwards has gone on record that the country simply cannot afford an election at this juncture.
Both the UNP and sections of the SLPP, which have teamed up to contest some of the local bodies, continue to insist that the elections should be postponed, despite both parties submitting nominations and placing deposits for the polls.
President Wickremesinghe is reportedly keen on holding a presidential election to seek a fresh mandate for his presidency once Sri Lanka has secured a widely anticipated International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.
Commenting on the IMF programme, Minister Gunawardena said: “If for some reason the IMF doesn’t sign this agreement, there is no tomorrow for this country.” (Colombo/Jan24/2023)