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Thursday June 20th, 2024

Voting begins in crucial poll

From seven am today Sri Lankans will go to the polls to elect a new President at 12, 845 polling stations across the island.

As of this writing, it looks like the most peaceful and incident-free election in many years, an achievement of the creation of an Independent National Elections Commission and Police Commission. Those were two key reforms Sri Lankans voted for in 2015.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa campaigning in Colombo/SLPP Media

The battle between the contestants is also a struggle to replace Sri Lanka’s septuagenarian leadership with younger leaders.

In the fray are Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 69, the former Secretary to the Ministry of Defense and the nominee of the Rajapaksa family dominated Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.

Sajith Premadasa surfs the crowd/Amitha Tennekoon RepublicNext

His most serious challenger Sajith Premadasa 52, representing the United National Party-led New Democratic Front is from a different generation. Also in the race is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader, 50-year-old Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who is the nominee of the National People’s Movement.

The 32 other contestants range from former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake to Environmental Activist Dr Ajantha Perera and businessman Rohan Pallewatte. The Elections Commission has noted that “at least eight” candidates are “dummies” put up by the leading candidates to have more polling and counting agents looking after their interests.

During the relatively short campaign, the debate has centred on several key issues. Rajapaksa has promised “discipline and national security” as well as a string of freebies such as fertilizer and jobs for the poor. Rajapaksa has also been media unfriendly, appearing at just the one Press Conference and shunning interviews.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake greets supporters in Tangalle/JVP Media

Premadasa has opened up a robust conversation on Human Rights, particularly Women’s Rights and swung his party’s priorities back to its roots by promising a Social Democratic agenda that replaces the Neo-Liberalism expounded by the UNP leadership over the past decade.  

Dissanayake’s promise has taken the debate even further advocating a greater depth, and spread of the Rights message and brought up the usually unspoken issue of Gay Rights. Both last-named candidates and “outlier” contestants have been accessible to Media and have taken part in informal debates aired on TV.

Chief Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya (r) and Commission Member Ratnajeevan Hoole/File

Looming over the entire election process is the biggest ballot paper the Elections Department has had to deal with because there are 35 candidates in the running. It is twice the size of the average ballot paper and has created a logistical nightmare, making the regular existing ballot boxes redundant. Validating, counting, folding and bundling these votes will be a challenge, delaying the announcement of the final result may be as late as Monday evening according to some estimates.

In case none of the candidates gets the magic 50 per cent plus one required to win the presidency, officials will open ballots cast for the other candidates to count the preferential votes, causing further delay.

Last evening, Nov 15, Chief Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya reported that all Presiding Officers at Polling stations had reported to their respective District Officers with their ballot papers. “They have fulfilled expectations,” Deshapriya said in a statement released to Media around 8pm.

The blip, Deshapriya said, was around 65 officials designated to work at the Colombo Royal College centre where Ballot Boxes were being issued, had fallen ill last afternoon Nov 15, due to food poisoning. He said that they were admitted to hospital and are expected to be discharged this evening.

Deshapriya also sought to ease the minds of democracy activists who expressed concerns that the Armed Forces may man roadblocks. Activists had warned that the Forces might set up roadblocks to prevent voters reaching the polling booths. Deshapriya said that the Military would be involved only to assist the Police.  “I can guarantee that the Armed Forces will not play a part in the election process,” he said.

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Sri Lanka shares debt management experience at global forum

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has shared its experiences at a forum on debt management to “provide lessons for others”, State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe has said.

Semasinghe spoke on “The Role of Debt Management in Navigating Crises” at the 14th Debt Management Facility (DMF) Stakeholders’ Forum, in Livingstone, Zambia.

“I shared the experiences of Sri Lanka which can provide valuable lessons for others and explored the critical elements of capacity building and sound institutional practices in managing debt, particularly in the context of economic challenges,” Semasinghe said on X (twitter).

“Sri Lanka’s experience demonstrates that effective debt management is not just about managing numbers but also about building robust institutions and capacities.”

The journey underscores the importance of transparent, accountable governance and the need for international support and cooperation in times of crisis, he said.

“Sri Lanka prioritized addressing gaps in public debt management by drafting a consolidated Public Debt Management Act, ensuring clarity and legal robustness and establishing a centralized Public Debt Management Office with operational autonomy.

“The role of debt management in navigating crises is multifaceted and critical. Further, by investing in capacity building, adhering to sound institutional practices, and strategically managing debt restructuring and liability operations, countries can better withstand economic shocks and pave the way for sustainable recovery.”

Developing countries face severe debt distress as they are more vulnerable to external shocks, Semasinghe said, and “managing global debt requires coordinated international efforts on debt restructuring where necessary, timely fiscal policy adaptation and help sustainable economic growth.”

The state minister also pointed out the financial impact of climate change was an emerging challenge, as countries need investment to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, “especially through non-debt creating inflows, which would require private capital mobilization.” (Colombo/Jun20/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes stronger at 305.10/30 to US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed stronger ahead of the long weekend at 305.10/30 to the US dollar on Thursday, up from 305.40/55 to the US dollar Wednesday, dealers said, while some bond yields edged up.

A bond maturing on 15.12.2026 closed at 10.45/80 percent, up from 10.35/75 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 11.20/45 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2029 closed at 12.00/15 percent, up from 11.95/12.35 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.12.2031 closed at 12.05/25 percent.
(Colombo/Jun20/2024)

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Sri Lanka stocks close up, JKH trade pushes turnover

ECONOMYNEXT – The Colombo Stock Exchange closed up on Thursday, data on its site showed.

The broader All Share Index closed up 0.19 percent, or 23.11 points, at 12,249; while the more liquid S&P SL20 Index closed up 0.15 percent, or 5.33 points, at 3,610.

Turnover was 2 billion. Nearly half of this (Rs980mn) came from a crossing on John Keells Holdings Plc. The share closed down at 202.00.

“There were several crossings today which pushed turnover,” market participants said.

“Institutions and high net-worth activity drove the market, while the retail investors we feel are still about uncertain and adopting a wait-and-see approach.”

Melstacorp Plc was among the companies that saw active volumes (Rs194mn) in the day. The share closed up at 87.10.

Top contributors to the index included TeeJay Lanka Plc (up at 41.70), Sampath Bank Plc (up at 79.50), Hatton National Bank Plc (down at 201.00). Hayleys Plc (up at 105.00) and its subsidiary Hayleys Fabric Plc (up at 46.60) were also positive contributors. (Colombo/Jun20/2024)

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