4 May 2023 06:36 pm – 0      – 235

 

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Ranil Wickremesinghe, a lawyer-turned-politician is deemed to be the smartest and shrewdest politician in Sri Lanka with a career spanning more than four decades. Wickremesinghe won his first parliamentary election in 1977 and became prime minister for the first time in 1993 – a post he has held six times overall. Despite having contested in several presidential elections, he could not fulfill his aspiration of becoming the head of the State.

In this context, Wickremesinghe was lucky enough to be elected as the President by Parliament where almost all his rivals voted in favour of him. This happened after the people’s massive uprising last year which culminated in compelling then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to leave his office creating political turmoil.

Against this backdrop, Wickremesinghe is due to serve the rest of the presidential term until November 2024 despite the mounting pressure from the opposition to go for an election before that.

LG polls postponed indefinitely

The local elections were initially scheduled to be held on 09 March, but the Treasury had not released the required funds to the Election Commission (EC). The EC then rescheduled the LG Elections to 25 April, and the postal voting to 28, 29, 30 and 31 March and 3 April, but the required funds were not released. Against this backdrop, the EC postponed the LG Elections for the second time with no new dates being scheduled. According to the EC, the local elections were delayed due to unexpected and unavoidable circumstances relating to the printing of ballot papers and other facilities pertaining to the election.

The Treasury had only released Rs 40 million needed for printing of ballot papers out of the estimated full cost of Rs 500 million. As such, the Election Commission has stated that the next date for holding elections would not be announced until the Treasury confirms the disbursal of funds.

In this context, Wickremesinghe, who is also the finance minister, is said to be withholding the necessary funds to hold overdue local elections. Wickremesinghe has attempted to justify the blocking of election finances, by claiming that all funds should be used for “economic recovery.”

Why say no to LG polls?

The reasons why President Wickremesinghe wants to delay LG polls could be multifaceted. One could be that he wants to fully enjoy presidency which he would have never got in a public election. The other could be the fear of defeat that JVP would garner majority of votes in the elections as they have attracted a larger proportion of people in recent past.

Besides, Wickremesinghe may be of the view that this year is not ideal and conducive to go for an election as Sri Lanka is yet to recover from the economic abyss. The most interesting reason could be that the President desires to acquire the credit and honour of successfully tackling the worst economic crisis with the aid of USD 3 billion from the IMF.

Also, Wickremesinghe may want to introduce new reforms as remedies to the debt-ridden Sri Lanka and stabilise the economy, thereby establishing his name as a true and capable leader. This becomes evident with his vision to make Sri Lanka a developing nation by 2048.

Furthermore, President Wickremesinghe is of the fear that a possible defeat in the LG polls could hamper the composition of Parliament and thus, compelling him to got for a General election.

Meanwhile, According to informed sources, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is slated to contest the next Presidential Election and has hinted at a possible presidential poll to be held early next year.

Wickremesinghe has also reportedly informed the opposition parliamentarians that the economy was on an upward trend and would improve in the coming months and the country is in a better position when compared to a few months ago and once the economy stabilizes, he would consult all political parties and other parties concerned and call for a presidential poll.

Moreover, the chances of the UNP or a UNP-led coalition securing a resounding victory at the LG or PC polls seem extremely remote. The Opposition parties especially JVP who are most likely to do well at these polls would use that victory to intensify demands for a General election. Also, a colossal defeat would undermine the President and his Government glaring attention to the question of a lack of a legitimate mandate as well.

Meanwhile, some political analytics are of the opinion that it is essential to give top priority to address present economic problem, and in the event of ignoring this problem, it will only result in it becoming more visible and challenging to overcome. Thus, they say efforts should be undertaken to address the economic issue. They further opine that the LG poll is not intended to change the government and the Parliament is responsible for addressing and improving the state of the economy.

Are staggered provincial polls on the cards?

Provincial councils have remained dissolved for a longer period than the local authorities. The elected PCs ended their terms of office at different times in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Provincial administration is now under the Governors appointed by the President and not the democratically elected representatives.

In this sense, what is baffling is that the voices for democracy urging LG polls maintain a deafening silence when it comes to PC polls. Even the Tamil parties seems to have held their tongue in this regard.

Accordingly, what President Wickremesinghe is contemplating at this point of time is to hold elections to the nine Provincial councils in Sri Lanka on a staggered basis. Instead of holding elections to all nine PCs simultaneously, Wickremesinghe eyes to conducting polls intermittently for one or two Provincial Councils at a time. As such, he is pondering of beginning with the Northern Provincial council first and then gradually proceed to Southern provincial council.

It is obvious that Ranil Wickremesinghe is mulling some political advantages to himself in pursuing this staggered PC proposal. Earlier he was into going in for a presidential election and ruled out the possibility of holding LG, PC or Parliamentary polls before that. Now he is apparently amenable to the idea of provincial council polls being held on a staggered basis.

Thus, it can be said that there is a strong political motive in Ranil Wickremesinghe going in for staggered PC polls starting from the North. First, it would satisfy India that has been reiterating that PC elections should be held soon. Second, the Northern and Eastern poll verdict would not seriously affect Wickremesinghe’s chances at a presidential election as electoral prospects for Sinhalese parties are quite slim when it comes to the North.

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