Election dates are determined by Constitution not magnanimity of leaders

Monday, 20 November 2023 00:00 –      – 25

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As Sri Lanka enters 2024 there is still ambiguity regarding the holding of general and presidential elections. After arbitrarily postponing local government elections, despite court orders to the contrary, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is not clearly stating his own intentions to run for the presidency or holding of presidential elections.

When asked whether he intends to contest the next presidential election at a press conference last week, the President said, “Once we have terminated the bankruptcy we will introduce new plans and at that stage, we will have to decide what is going to happen.”

This Government only seems to recall that it claimed bankruptcy when the subject of an election comes up. It is also quite rich from a Government which has shown little austerity in its spending, be it in foreign trips with jumbo delegations or the expenditure to maintain a bloated cabinet of ministers. Addressing Parliament in March this year, President Wickremesinghe proclaimed that the country has no money for holding the poll. What prevents him saying the same for the presidential and general election?

Sri Lanka claims to be Asia’s oldest continuous democracy. The two factors that determine this status are the universal franchise that was granted to Sri Lanka in 1931, and the holding of regular, free and fair elections. In the early 20th Century, a small elite used to possess the right to vote and therefore determine the ‘will of the people.’ The two ‘big ideas’ that entered the discourse at that time were universal franchise and self-determination. With the acceptance of universal franchise, the notion of self-determination, by which ‘the right of a people to determine its collective political destiny in a democratic fashion’ was defined through the process of elections. In this perspective of democracy, the holding of free, fair and routine elections became the accepted minimum standard.

Therefore, the electoral process is centric to the very democratic concept since it is the institutional arrangement for the arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of competitive struggle for the people’s vote. It is therefore an abhorrent proposition that the current Ranil Wickremesinghe Government overtly stifles the franchise of the people and prevents the holding of local government elections. It is particularly abhorrent since the current regime has hardly shown any economic austerity when it comes to its own expenditure.

The President’s and the Government’s actions ignore the inalienable right of the people of Sri Lanka for self-determination and their ability to express their political will. The holding of elections is particularly necessary for President Ranil Wickremesinghe who holds the highest office in the land without a popular mandate. The attempts of the current regime to deny the electorate its fundamental right to the franchise should be condemned in the strongest means possible. Pathetic excuses by a regime that does not possess a legitimate mandate to hold on to power through undemocratic means would only lead to further chaos and instability. Those who pursue this path at the peril of Sri Lanka’s democracy should be held accountable for their actions against the Republic.

Elections cannot wait till ideal economic conditions. For a country that did not postpone elections during its 26-year civil war to attempt such anti-democratic manoeuvres is simply pathetic.