Sri Lanka says it lacks funds to hold polls

Sri Lanka says it lacks funds to hold polls

COLOMBO: Bankrupt Sri Lanka is set to postpone local elections due next month, according to a top official, prompting opposition protests on Tuesday that forced parliament to be adjourned.

The March 9 vote was meant to be a key test of support for President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office in July after months of protests over a dire economic crisis.

According to a court submission by the Election Commission, the treasury has refused to fund the printing of ballot papers, fuel or police protection for polling booths.

“I had given an undertaking to the Supreme Court recently that the poll will be held on time,” Election Commission chief Nimal Punchihewa told.

“But, I am now informing court that we won’t be able to do it because the government is not releasing the necessary funds.” The president previously said elections were impossible as state revenue was insufficient to pay salaries and pensions and maintain essential services.

Wickremesinghe, who replaced Gotabaya Rajapaksa after protesters stormed the presidential palace, has implemented swingeing tax hikes and price rises in an effort to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Parliament was adjourned on Tuesday after opposition MPs carried placards to protest against what they said was a government attempt to avoid voter scrutiny and cling to power.

“The government is using the economic crisis to suppress democracy and sabotage elections,” opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa said.

Sri Lanka’s top court is expected to make a ruling on Thursday but it is unclear whether the government would have the cash to proceed even if the judge orders the polls to go ahead.

The vote has been estimated to cost about $27.6 million.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2023


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