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Sri Lanka’s Supreme court postpones petition seeking halt of March 9 local polls

Colombo, Feb 23 (PTI) Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Thursday postponed the hearing of a writ petition seeking an order to halt the March 9 local body elections until May 11, casting uncertainty on the conduct of elections in the island country.

The apex court postponed the hearing of the petition filed by a retired Sri Lanka Army Colonel seeking an order to invalidate the preparations being made for the Local Government Election until May 11, two months after the scheduled date.

Speaking in parliament on Thursday, President Ranil Wickremesinghe also hinted that the local election may not take place.

“There is no election declared by the election commission. So no question of a postponement,” Wickremesinghe said.

Wickremesinghe, citing a technical point, claimed that the election commissioners lacked unanimity when the poll was announced for March 9.

“Only three of them had agreed, but the decision was announced by one of them,” he said, adding that the five-member Election Commission is acting on an interim basis, as its term ended on October 31 last year.

Wickremesinghe stressed that his job as the president was, at this stage, to revive the crisis-struck economy, hinting that conducting the local election with already lean state finances would only bring additional pressure.

The Election Commission informed the Supreme Court that it was difficult to conduct local body polls on March 9 due to various reasons linked to the cash-strapped country’s current economic crisis.

The election to appoint new administrations to 340 local councils for a four-year term has been postponed since March last year due to the ongoing economic crisis.

Opposition parties blame Wickremesinghe for trying to sabotage the election, fearing a loss, and accuse him of influencing state officials and the elections commission against holding the polls.

Chief opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party’s lawmakers filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court calling for a writ against state officials who they alleged were denying funds necessary to conduct the elections.

The government has indicated repeatedly that the time was unsuitable to hold the election, given the economic crisis, due to a shortage of foreign reserves.

It said the scarcity of money to hold the election costing Rs 10 billion would bring additional pressure on the already lean state finances.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) won the majority of councils in the last election held in 2018. It has suffered major splits since the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in 2022, the worst since its independence from Britain in 1948, due to a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves, sparking political turmoil in the country that led to the ouster of the all-powerful Rajapaksa family. 

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