COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Thursday announced an indefinite postponement of the parliamentary elections slated for April 25 owing to the global coronavirus spread.
The Chairman of the Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya said the new date for polls would depend on how the pandemic situation evolved.
“Coronavirus will decide when we can hold the election again,” Deshapriya said, urging people to contribute to countering the virus. “I urge everyone to focus and support efforts to eradicate the virus.”
The commission had earlier said it was advised by health authorities that “there is no serious situation in the country to postpone the election.”
The chairman was addressing the media at the headquarters of the Election Commission in Colombo on Thursday afternoon right after the nominations were received on the last day.
Two days ago, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a message to the nation that elections would be held as scheduled on April 25 and asked the people to support Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapkasa.
The island has reported 53 virus cases, while 213 are being kept under observation in 16 hospitals for treating Covid-19.
The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachi told Arab News that his organization had already asked the commission to postpone the polls.
“At that time, the commissioner did not have the right to postpone it but the president did. Following the nomination, the president will not have the say on the postponement but now the commissioner derived the power to put off the elections for a minimum period of 14 days,” Hettiarachi said.
He added that the maximum number of days is not mentioned in the election regulations, so voters will have to wait until a new date is announced.
Muheed Jeeran, a Colombo-based political lobbyist and human rights activist, said that he welcomed the decision to postpone the polls and that the next date for general election should be kept unannounced as a national strategy to keep the candidates from conducting mass rallies.
“The reason to keep the next date unannounced is a strategy to lockdown the candidates who will definitely violate the lockdown and the government’s policy against holding public gatherings,” he said.
Executive Director of the National Peace Council Gihan Perera told Arab News that the situation with the virus was not conducive to hold an election as more than 14 million people will be mobilized for the exercise.
During his video conference with the SAARC leaders early this week, Rajapaksa said that Covid-19 had affected the country’s tourism and exports, which are major sections of the economy, but said the elections will go as planned.
With Thursday marking the last day to file nomination papers for elections, the commission said that 44 political parties and 31 independent groups had submitted nominations for 22 electoral districts.
Rajapaksa, who was elected in November, used his constitutional power to dissolve the 255-member parliament — in which the opposition held a majority — six months before the conclusion of its five-year tenure. He announced elections for April 25. Candidates were asked to file their nominations between March 12-19.
Rajapaksa rose to power criticizing the previous government for poor security and intelligence after the church bombings last April.
His brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is currently the country’s prime minster. He is set to lead a newly formed coalition between Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was expected to sweep the polls.
A two-thirds majority in the parliament will allow the brothers to implement constitutional changes to increase presidential powers and influence, which former President Maithripala Sirisena reduced and gave to the parliament and independent commissions.