Coronavirus | Sri Lanka Opposition parties ask President to postpone election

Coronavirus | Sri Lanka Opposition parties ask President to postpone election

Coronavirus | Sri Lanka Opposition parties ask President to postpone election
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka. Photo: File

On March 3, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament and announced polls on April 25.

Many Opposition parties in Sri Lanka have called for postponing the general election scheduled for April 25, in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. Their request comes a day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told SAARC leaders — who connected on a video call to discuss regional strategies to combat COVID 19 — that Sri Lanka’s parliamentary election will be held as scheduled.

Sri Lanka has so far 28 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The first case — a Chinese tourist who tested positive in February — has since recovered and returned to China while all other patients are currently undergoing treatment at government hospitals. One patient, officials said, had returned from Kerala recently.

Prominent Opposition politician Sajith Premadasa, who now leads an alliance of a faction of the United National Party (UNP), and its allies, urged the government to utilise funds allocated for polls to step up Sri Lanka’s response to the virus. Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has urged the President to convene an all-parties meeting to discuss ways to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and possibly postpone poll in the wake of such a health crisis, the Daily FT newspaper here reported.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Monday said it was concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19 and noted that the safety of the public is “our paramount concern”. “For this reason, and for the reason that all democratic aspects cannot be properly be adhered to in this abnormal situation, we request the postponement of the general election due to be held on 25th of April 2020,” its spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran said in a statement.

Public health concern

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) took a similar position. “This is a big public health concern and as a country we must focus on preventing it from further spreading,” said Bimal Rathnayake, who represented the party in Parliament in the last session. On March 3, President Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament and announced polls on April 25.

“In the current situation, you can’t campaign or hold rallies and that affects the Opposition parties the most, because government still has state media and even some private media to put out its messages. This situation gives the incumbent government an unfair advantage,” he told The Hindu.

The Tamil Progressive Alliance, a grouping of Malayaha [hill country] Tamils, also sought a postponement. Its leader Mano Ganesan urged the government to act responsibly “before the situation gets out of control”. “Let us activate our systems beyond party divides. Electioneering now will expose the country to more unjustifiable health risks,” he said in a tweet.

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka is yet to respond to the requests made by the different parties. Sources said a crucial meeting was summoned on Monday. The parliamentary election — estimated to cost over LKR 5 billion — will see the direct election of 196 MPs to the 225-member legislature, and 29 others through the National List. Following a public holiday on Monday, Sri Lankan courts have decided to remain closed through the week to prevent large groups from gathering.