'Enormous challenge' to conduct local polls: Sri Lankan official

NewsDrum Desk
24 Jan 2023

Colombo, Jan 24 (PTI) It would be an "enormous challenge" for Sri Lanka to hold local polls in March as the country is facing a dire economic situation, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told reporters here the government would not be able to enhance the rationed fuel quotas for vehicles to be widely used in the election process.

“We have informed both the election commission and the Supreme Court that holding of the election would be an enormous challenge,” Gunawardena said.

He said both the state power entity Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Central Transport Board, whose buses would be pressed into service for the election process, are in very bad shape with the loss of revenue and resources.

Gunawardena said the government would not be able to enhance the rationed fuel quotas for the vehicles. Currently, petrol is rationed at 20 litres per vehicle for a week.

Sri Lanka's election commission announced on Saturday it will hold the local council polls on March 9, ending speculation that the election may be postponed again due to the prevailing economic crisis in the country.

The local election for the 340 councils in the island nation had been due from March last year but was earlier postponed by six months due to an unprecedented economic turmoil which triggered a political crisis and led to the ouster of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The opposition parties have been pressing for the local election, saying it will give people a chance to show displeasure over the government’s handling of the economic crisis.

The government, however, has delayed the local polls and said the time is not suitable to hold the election given the ongoing economic crisis in the country.

“This is not the time for an unimportant election such as the local election," said Vajira Abeywardena, a government member.

The election process will reportedly cost Rs 10 billion which would put additional pressure on the already lean state finances.

The opposition groups say that the government was trying to postpone the election due to fear of a defeat.

“The government is trying hard to find false reasons to delay the election, they know they would lose,” said GL Peiris, an opposition parliamentarian.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) controls a majority of councils after having won the last election held in 2018.

However, the party has been in disarray since July when its leader and former President Rajapaksa was ousted in a popular uprising. It has suffered defections with members forming other electoral alliances.

After Rajapaksa’s ouster, Sri Lanka’s Parliament elected then-Acting President and six-time former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new head of the State. He had the backing of the SLPP, the largest bloc in the 225-member parliament.

The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is confident that they could win a majority of councils given the ruling party’s seeming unpopularity over its handling of the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948, triggered by a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves. PTI CORR MRJ MRJ

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