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Stalemate suspense


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As the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party (UNP) continue to work on forming a government, the rest of the country remains in suspense as to what political outcome will eventually become reality. 

Given that only four days have lapsed since the election results on Sunday, it is reasonable that the President as well as the Prime Minister remain mired in political wrangling with various minority parties to garner enough seats to set up a government. However, this situation should not be allowed to drag on too long, as affairs of State have to be addressed and the longer these critical problems are ignored, the bigger the fallout could become. 

The numbers game is being played both by the SLFP and the UNP, who have been taking pains to get smaller parties behind them. It is interesting that neither party has offered to partner with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has the third highest number of seats in parliament. On the surface, it seems that the main reason could be that neither the SLFP nor UNP want to risk losing Sinhala-Buddhist votes, especially given that Provincial Council elections are next in line. 

The Elections Commissioner yesterday said it is possible that Provincial Council elections could be held as early as September, which would give the coalition Government just six months to reset itself for another battle. However, the delimination process for the Provincial Council polls is yet to be completed, and could drag on for several more months. Even though this Government has already faced bad repercussions from delaying elections, it may have no choice this time around, as Provincial Council elections have to take place before a potential presidential election announcement in late 2019 or early 2020.  

This, however, is bad news for the wider reform and reconciliation agenda, as political will to push through essential but difficult policies on economic liberalisation, legal reforms and reconciliation will fall off the governance table. Even though the Sri Lankan Government will have to present progress to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March, and possibly later in the year, the impetus to implement policies will all but die. 

A second, and perhaps more critical issue, will be managing the economic front. Sri Lanka has huge debt repayment of about $ 4 billion per year, beginning from 2019 and running till 2022, and it is still in the middle of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program focused on fiscal consolidation. The largest percentage of Sri Lanka’s debt is held by financial markets, and any imprudent spending or economic mismanagement by the Government could result in Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating and other indicators changing. In such a situation, it could become more challenging for Sri Lanka to enter the market to borrow at beneficial interest rates as it must do for debt serving. These are serious issues that require the attention of both the President and Prime Minister. 

The President is expected to make a statement to the nation on Friday (16 February). This is a positive start, as communication is key to updating and reassuring the country of what political decisions are being made. Yet it cannot be denied that the best answer to the present situation would be a speedy resolution on the political front, and a return to dealing with governing Sri Lanka.


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