A small island country off of the coast of India, Sri Lanka rarely makes U.S. headlines. Yet, a majority of people in the U.S. agree that democracy is the best system of government and with democracy comes elections of a country’s leaders. The country of Sri Lanka has a parliamentarian system that includes calls for elections of local leaders. At present, the right to vote in Sri Lanka is being threatened. Postponement of elections by the government is jeopardizing this right.
Before getting into the postponement of elections, some background surrounding the need for these elections is required. A 30-year civil war ended in Sri Lanka in 2009, and political leaders charged with atrocities during that war remain in power. The post-war period has been marked by the concentration of Executive power in the hands of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and repression of dissidents, particularly ethnic and religious minorities. Corruption and mismanagement, including by other members of the Rajapaksa family, created an economic crisis last summer with “soaring inflation, and shortages of essential goods like food, fuel, and medicine.” The crisis led to multiple protests by the people of Sri Lanka demanding the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president at the time. As the crisis worsened, so did the protests, eventually leading to Rajapaksa resigning and fleeing the country. Then, on July 14, the current president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was chosen by Parliament. Wickremesinghe was a close ally of the Rajapaksa family and had previously served as the prime minister. Many people in Sri Lanka were not happy with his win. With this in mind, we look to the postponement of the elections and the reasons behind the postponement.
The last time elections occurred was in 2018 and the next set of elections were supposed to occur in 2022, during the peak of the economic and political crisis. Thus, the Wickremesinghe Government delayed the elections using the crisis as a justification. There was also concern that the government would not have the votes to maintain the majority. Following this delay, the original date of local elections was set for March 9, 2023, with postal voting scheduled to be held on February 22, 23, 24, and 28.
On February 17, an announcement was made that the postal voting was to be “postponed indefinitely.” This was followed by the Election Commission reporting to the Supreme Court that the elections would not be able to proceed “as planned due to the non-availability of funds.” The government has stated that it wanted to postpone the election until the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delivered a bailout package that would “stabilize the economy,” but Sri Lankan civil society organizations are concerned that this is a cynical attempt by the government to blame the IMF and avoid their own responsibility to hold elections. 
After considering the claims of these financial concerns, the Supreme Court issued an interim order “restraining authorities from withholding funds for local polls.” This order came in response to a petition filed by the chief opposition party that called for a writ against state officials who were supposedly “denying funds necessary to conduct the elections.” Allegations included the President pressuring the Minister of Finance to block releasing the money. The Supreme Court’s interim order was issued to the Finance Secretary and the Attorney General. The State Minister of Finance has said the government “will honor” the Supreme Court’s Order. Following this order, the Election Commission has written to the President requesting the funds be released so the elections can get underway. As of right now, there has been no release of funds in preparation for the election.
In a world where authoritarianism seems to be on the rise, the right to vote in free and fair elections is crucial. The continued delay of the elections is a yet another example of the Sri Lankan government failing to provide for its citizens. As of right now, the elections are set to occur on April 25, but this is uncertain especially since the President has announced that no elections will be held until the financial uncertainty is resolved. Meanwhile, Sri Lankans continue to advocate for their right to vote in order to protect democracy and challenge the ongoing human rights abuse in their country.
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