Chaotic political situation in Sri Lanka ahead of Presidential election
Posted on June 7th, 2024

By Veeragathy Thanabalasingham Courtesy NewsIn.Asia

Colombo, June 7: In none of the eight Presidential elections held so far in Sri Lanka, one has seen such a chaotic political situation as in the run up to the present one. One wonders if politicians really know the mood of the people of the country.

Every day Sri Lankan politicians are making strange comments about the elections, regardless of the merits of those views and the media are highlighting them unthinkingly.


Recently the General Secretary of the United National Party (UNP)  Palitha Range Bandara, created a huge controversy by expressing his opinion regarding the elections. He continues to justify his comments even after his party rejected his views.

Addressing a press conference at Srikotha, UNP  headquarters, on May 28, Range Bandara proposed that this year’s Presidential election and next year’s  parliamentary elections should be postponed and the terms of the President and Parliament should be extended by two years.

A former Member of Parliament of Puttalam District and Minister of State, Range Bandara said that a resolution should be passed in Parliament with the support of all parties and put to a referendum for the approval of the people to extend the terms of office.

Immediately, the opposition parties strongly condemned the statement and accused President Ranil Wickremesinghe of being behind his idea. Range Bandara was not an ordinary member of the UNP. He is the General Secretary of the party. But he does not seem to have the political maturity to realize the importance of the views he comes out with.

However, President Wickremesinghe distanced himself from the controversy, realizing the potential impact of Range Bandara’s comments. The President also mentioned that there is no need to say anything specific about his comments as he has already said many a time that the Presidential election will be held on time as per the constitution.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena also issued a statement clarifying the government’s position that the Presidential election would be held in due course followed by parliamentary elections.

Even after all this happened, Range Bhandara, who convened another press conference last week, justified his opinion that a referendum should be held to extend the terms of the President and Parliament. He said that he only spoke about the constitutional provision regarding referendum and requested other political parties to come up with their stand on the matter. 

While condemning the UNP General Secretary’s comments, opposition politicians and many observers did not fail to recall former president J.R. Jeyawardane’s claim that Sri Lanka could roll out the electoral map for the next 40 years. He had said this  immediately after the UNP’s stunning election victory in July 1977 with a five-sixth majority in parliament. He then held a heavily rigged referendum in December 1982 to extend the term of the then parliament for another six years.

The concern that the elections along with election campaigns could  affect the current momentum of economic recovery under the leadership of President Wickremesinghe, may have   prompted Range Bandara to put forward the idea of postponing the two national elections. Politicians who have already talked about postponement of elections and introducing electoral reforms have cited similar reasons.

Range Bandara also argued that people are not asking for elections, but three square meals a day. Before him his leader, President Wickremesinghe, had already said that people do not want elections.

Addressing the National Law Conference of the Sri Lanka Bar Association held in Nuwara Eliya exactly one year ago, the President stated that the majority of the country’s people, including the youth, have lost faith not only in elections.

It is no secret that the government’s partners, the President’s UNP  and the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP ) fear elections. They fully cooperated with President Wickremesinghe’s brazen actions that led to the indefinite postponement of local government elections early last year. That the President and the government will not hesitate to engage in anti-democratic measures was clear when they defied the Election Commission’s decision to conduct local government elections.

The government also defied the judiciary by flouting an order of the Supreme Court that the Treasury should not withhold funds earmarked for local government  elections.

Local government elections would certainly have provided an opportunity to assess political thinking of the people after the ‘Aragalaya’ people’s uprising and their perceptions regarding the polices and actions  of the present government.

But the government not only took that opportunity away from the people but also failed to hold Provincial Council elections. It has no moral authority to say that the people do not want elections.

However, there is a difference. President Wickremesinghe has been continuously talking about Presidential elections but not about other elections. The reason is that the Presidential election is related to his political future. In the last two years since Wickremesinghe took office as President, government politicians have often talked about introducing electoral reforms with the subtle intention of postponing parliamentary elections. But they abandoned it after protests from the opposition and civil society organizations.

Meanwhile, addressing a meeting with young legal professionals  held at the Presidential Secretariat a few days ago, President Wickremesinghe said that none of the prospective Presidential candidates from the opposition had said anything about abolishing the executive powers of the Presidency. One wonders whether he said so in the hope that if they came forward with such a proposal to  abolish the executive powers, he would be able to postpone the elections citing the legislative process needed for that.

We recall that late last year, Justice Minister Dr.  Wijedasa Rajapakshe put forward reform proposals to hold parliamentary elections under a hybrid system that would include the former constituency system (First -Past -the Post  system ) and the current proportional representation system.

Vajira Abeywardhana, who is Chairman of the UNP and its one and only member of Parliament, had once asked parties to elect Wickremesinghe unopposed. Abeywardana also said that if the Presidential election is held this year, the government will run out of funds to provide relief to the people affected by the economic downturn.  He is also on record saying that those who are demanding elections want to destabilize the country. The UNP chairman even said that if President Wickremesinghe is allowed to rule for several more years, he will make the country economically sound enough for European women to come to Sri Lanka and work as housemaids.

On the one hand, Wickremesinghe is making arrangements to carry out Presidential election campaigns, while on the other, UNP politicians are stating anti-election views. This strange situation raises the question as to how they will cooperate with the President’s efforts to contest the election. Indeed, the UNP is in a very weak position in terms of popular support and organizational structure. This is the main reason for the confusing views of its leaders.

The President’s announcement that he would not contest the Presidential election as the candidate of the UNP clearly demonstrated his clear understanding of the current state of his party which has under his leadership for three decades. It seems that Wickramasinghe came to the conclusion that it was advisable to contest the Presidential election as an independent candidate on behalf of a broader alliance that includes various parties and individuals  because he was well aware that he could not rebuild his party in the near future.

But his efforts to build a broad alliance have not seen any significant progress so far. Expecting support from many parties, he has not officially announced his candidacy for the presidential election. Even when he declared open his political office in Colombo last Thursday no such announcement came from him.

The President believes that he has developed considerable support among the people of the country due to the improvement in the economic situation. It is true that there is no shortage of goods as a result of his economic restructuring measures. But there is no doubt that the more affluent sections of society who can afford to buy the  available goods want Wickremesinghe to continue in office. But the vast majority of the people do not have the money to buy most of the goods.

It cannot be said that the people of the country will give him overwhelming support in the next election and make him President again just because of the measures taken by him for economic recovery. When it comes to elections, various factors such as party politics and vote banks come into play. His party’s continued weakness is the reason why his efforts to build a broader alliance have not been successful.

Politicians from other parties who may come forward to support him will also have their future prospects in mind. Although the Rajapaksas were widely expected to back Wickremesinghe, but they had often said that they would announce their party’s Presidential candidate in due course. In addition, they say that the candidate they support will be the next President.

It is unclear what decision the Rajapaksas will ultimately make. At the same time, another important question arises as to whether the support of the Rajapaksas will benefit Wickramasinghe. It cannot be completely ruled out that their support may be a liability for him. It is certain that President Wickremesinghe will contest the election. But the political situation around him is confused.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2024 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress