Polls should not be postponed under any circumstances

Thursday, 30 May 2024 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The proposal by United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara for a postponement of presidential and parliamentary elections for two years may have been intended to help President Ranil Wickremesinghe but it has had the opposite effect. 

Bandara’s ill-timed and ludicrous suggestion is a big setback to President Wickremesinghe whose stars have been rising slowly but steadily politically in the past few months. However, Bandara has undone most of that in mere minutes by calling for a postponement of the polls, a suggestion unacceptable under any circumstances.

It is no secret that the UNP, under President J.R. Jayewardene, has the dubious honour of opting for a referendum over holding a parliamentary election in 1982 but the circumstances under which this was done are very different to the situation today. Jayewardene had secured over 52% of the vote in the Presidential election held in October that year and opted to hold a referendum in December, 1982 to extend the term of the existing Parliament. He was backed by UNP MPs who enjoyed an absolute majority in the House at the time.

Take the case of the current President in comparison. Wickremesinghe was chosen by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that commands the majority in the current Parliament to serve out the rest of the term of Gotabaya Rajapaksa which ends in October this year. The UNP has one parliamentary seat (a national list seat), and hence is in no position to get parliamentary approval for any proposal to postpone elections. The SLPP has already distanced itself from Bandara’s suggestion saying timely elections are a must. Hence any suggestion of this nature is useless and seems aimed at confusing the opposition and distracting attention from other burning issues in the country.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is someone who has had the rug pulled under his feet several times and is known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He was caught unawares when then President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament in April 2004 bringing an abrupt end to the UNP Government in which Wickremesinghe served as Prime Minister. He was unaware of Kumaratunga’s move until after she had dissolved the House. In 2018, Wickremesinghe was caught unaware when then president Maithripala Sirisena sacked him and decided to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. Similarly, he was taken by surprise when there was a mass exodus from the UNP to the newly formed party headed by Sajith Premadasa in 2019.

The UNP was once the grand old party of Sri Lanka and political stalwarts of high standing served as its office bearers. The appointment of Range Bandara to the once prestigious post itself is a reflection of the downfall of the UNP.

It is not clear if the President will try to distance himself from Range Bandara’s suggestion, but it is difficult to think he was unaware that the General Secretary of the party he heads would make such a statement without his blessings.

The President is in office on borrowed time and is only there to serve out the rest of the term of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is entitled to contest the next Presidential election if he so wishes and place his fate in the hands of the voters.

There is growing consensus in the country that for economic stability there must be political stability. Elections will no doubt cause uncertainty and to some extent upset the ongoing economic recovery. But that in no way can be used as an excuse to postpone elections.

While elections may not result in the ideal situation vis a vis economic recovery, it will be balm for the souls of citizens of this country who are keen to exercise their franchise. Any move to deprive them of this opportunity is suicidal for the President and the Government too.