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Presidential Poll; Will It Happen?

24 February 2024 01:27 am - 5     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Particularly, in the context of the deeply rooted current perception among the people that the two ruling parties, the UNP and the SLPP are going to be wiped out at any forthcoming election – as happened to the UNP at the last General Election – and that morality and shame are not playing any role in politics, the spectrum of possibilities including election violence seems to be widening. 

The interesting point is that the President who had made budgetary allocations only for one election in this year as the Finance Minister told the Parliament during the same budget debate as well as in a special statement to Parliament nine days later that both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections would be held this year. It is only he who can explain this contradiction 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe while presenting the 2024 budget on November 13 last year told Parliament that both the next Presidential and Parliamentary elections would be held this year.
Nine days later, he, while making a special statement in Parliament on the economic situation of the country, reiterated the point. 
Apparently relying on the President’s remarks in Parliament, Media Minister and Cabinet Spokesman, Dr Bandula Gunawardena also told reporters on February 6 that Rs. 10 billion has been allocated for both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, which he said are scheduled to be held in 2024. 


Negating all these statements, particularly those of the President, the Presidential Secretariat on February 13, issued a communiqué claiming that the Presidential Election will be held within the mandated period and the General Election will be held next year (2025). “Financial provisions for the General Election will be provided for in the 2025 budget. The responsibility of conducting elections lies with the Elections Commission of Sri Lanka, and the government will be communicating with the Commission as and when required” it added
What the Presidential Secretariat stated was not anything new; it is the law unless the President intervenes under the powers vested in him by the Constitution. Unlike the original Second Republican Constitution of 1978, its 19th, 20th and 21stAmendments provided for a five-year term for the President and the Parliament. The last Presidential and Parliamentary elections were held in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Hence, those elections have to be conducted again in 2024 and 2025 respectively, if the Elections Commission is given a free hand. 

 
Yet, if the President intervenes by way of dissolving the Parliament prematurely, the General Election could be held even before the Presidential election which is scheduled to be held between September 18 and October 18 this year. The only hurdle is the fact that funds have been allocated only for one election which should be the Presidential election since it cannot be deferred. The Election Commission has also confirmed this fund allocation in a recent reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query. Hence, holding the General Election this year according to the law is now out of the question.
The interesting point is that the President who had made budgetary allocations only for one election in this year as the Finance Minister told the Parliament during the same budget debate as well as in a special statement to Parliament nine days later that both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections would be held this year. It is only he who can explain this contradiction. 
However, Cabinet Spokesman, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena had attempted to strike a balance between the two contradicting points by stating that the Elections Commission has to manage with the allocated Rs. 10 billion for both elections. He would have been embarrassed by the subsequent statement by the Presidential Secretariat which said that funds have been allocated only for the Presidential election.
Another issue relating to funding elections this year is lying in wait. The case filed by a retired army officer seeking the postponement of Local Government Elections which were originally fixed by the Elections Commission to March 9 last year is still pending, despite the original petitioner having died. If the case is dismissed this year the question of funding for those elections might also arise.


There are no legally fixed dates for elections in Sri Lanka like in the US. Despite it being the responsibility of the Elections Commission to fix dates for the elections, the President has also been given a huge say in deciding it. He can advance the date for the General Election by dissolving the Parliament after two and a half years from the date of its first sitting. Also, he can do the same with regard to the date of the Presidential election by calling a mid-term election seeking a second mandate after being in office for four years, but only if he is not a “Succeeding President” like former President D.B. Wijetunga and current President Ranil Wickremesinghe. 
The past Presidents have used these provisions of the Constitution to the detriment of the parties other than their own. Former President J.R. Jayawardena called a mid-term election seeking a second mandate in 1982 while his main rival Sirimavo Bandaranaike had been deprived of her civic rights for seven years from 1980. Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa got his Governors of all seven provinces except for the then merged North-Eastern Province to dissolve their respective Provincial Councils in March 1993, in order to hold fresh elections. By doing so he changed the election dates in a manner that would be favourable to his party. 
President Ranil Wickremesinghe was instrumental to the indefinite postponement of Local Government Elections that were scheduled for March 9 last year by refusing to issue funds for those elections. Before that the government made various other attempts to put off those elections. In the meantime, unidentified individuals had issued death threats against the members of the Elections Commission. 
It was a well-known fact that the government wanted to put off the LG polls for fear of defeat in the light of sufferings by the people due to the unprecedented economic crisis the country has been undergoing. Attempting to defer those elections on various flimsy pretexts is unethical. Interestingly, nobody seems to be ashamed of doing so when the real motive is obvious to the world. 


Another unfair feature in Sri Lanka’s electoral system is one political party as the ruling party getting the undue powers to mobilize the state machinery against the other parties and to bribe the voters in the guise of development and relief activities using public funds, at the expense of rival parties. During a Presidential election, a President in office who is contesting for a second mandate can mobilize the Police, the armed forces and the other state institutions such as the local government bodies which issue permits for venues for propaganda meetings.
It is against this backdrop that the forthcoming election is scheduled to be held. Also it is against this lack of level playing field that the Opposition parties are expressing fears of the postponement of the election, abolition of Executive Presidency or creating funding problems for the Presidential election by holding a snap General Election after dissolving the Parliament. 


Particularly, in the context of the deeply rooted current perception among the people that the two ruling parties, the UNP and the SLPP are going to be wiped out at any forthcoming election – as happened to the UNP at the last General Election – and that morality and shame are not playing any role in politics, the spectrum of possibilities including election violence seems to be widening.  


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  Comments - 5

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  • FredSnr Monday, 26 February 2024 05:52 AM

    Why don't you ask him(office) and print the answer instead of long winded essays on the subject this is not a tutorial. class it is real life people have to get on with their work and life Imagine a hospital or any other public institution for that matter operating this way

    Mohommed Tuesday, 27 February 2024 05:03 AM

    Ranil wants what people do not want, that is the referendum.

    S.H.Moulana Wednesday, 28 February 2024 07:27 PM

    Still they are studying the pulse of the people. If ever the election were to be held it will be done purely depending the majority support. The winning is the biggest question.

    melville perera Thursday, 29 February 2024 08:20 AM

    the powers vested in him as president are unlimited will he give it up!!! even past presidents who faithfully promised to abolish the hot seat are enjoying ad lib benefits in retirements at taxpayers expense one shamelessly said he enjoyed it during his tenure and even seeking re-election with no comment about abolishing the hot seat

    melville perera Thursday, 29 February 2024 08:20 AM

    the powers vested in him as president are unlimited will he give it up!!! even past presidents who faithfully promised to abolish the hot seat are enjoying ad lib benefits in retirements at taxpayers expense one shamelessly said he enjoyed it during his tenure and even seeking re-election with no comment about abolishing the hot seat


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