ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed that the local government election that was scheduled for March 09 has not been delayed as there was “no election to be postponed”, pointing to an apparent lack of an official decision on when the polls should be held.
Addressing parliament on Thursday February 23, Wickremesinghe said the election commission was due to inform the Supreme Court later that day that the election cannot be held.
Criticism has been mounting against President Wickremesinghe’s administration for what opposition MPs claim is its relentless attempts to stifle democracy and delay the local government elections.
Opposition parties claim that the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) does not want the election to go ahead fearing a humiliating defeat.
“The election has not been postponed. There is no election to be postponed in the first place,” said Wickremesinghe, inviting laughter from the government benches.
“As far as we know, a date for the election still hasn’t been announced. Some people are talking about March 09. I cannot comment on that date. To my knowledge, there has been no official decision made to hold the election,” he said.
The president claimed that the five-member election commission was not unanimous on the conduct of the polls.
“I can even present evidence for that,” he said.
“There really has been no official decision made to hold the election. So if we go and give money, I’d have to remove the secretary and ask the police to take legal action against him. The same would happen to the government printer. They will all lose their jobs.”
Wickremesinghe said that there are no funds at present, but all stakeholders can discuss a possible solution.
“For now there is no money. But for now there is no election either. There is no money for an election, and even if there was, there is no election. So what do we do?” he said.
The president further said that he is compelled to address claims made by various quarters about alleged attempts to delay the polls as it would otherwise be unfair by the Finance Ministry secretary and other officials.
Quoting a statement by the election commission that said it had been informed by the secretary of the Treasury that it is unable to provide the necessary funds to conduct the election, Wickremesinghe said: “This is false.”
The president also criticised the commission, an independent body, for having President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris represent it.
“If you’re obtaining the services of a lawyer, get someone who is not affiliated with any political party,” said Wickremesinghe.
Peiris, he claimed, is a lawyer who has maintained that his government has no mandate nor authority.
“It would’ve been better to get a lawyer from the SJB or the JVP,” he said.
Wickremesinghe also took a swipe at the main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). He said he had advised SJB member Mujibur Rahuman who had recently resigned from his seat in parliament to contest the local government elections as the SJB’s Colombo mayor candidate.
“I sent a message to Mujibur Rahuman telling him not to resign and that he would be thrown under the bus,” said Wickremesinghe, to the apparent amusement of government MPs.
“I’m the one who brought him to parliament. I wanted to keep him in parliament,” he said.
“I will not comment further on that,” he added. (Colombo/Feb23/2023)