The prospects of holding local government elections hang in the balance like never before.Former Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya in a public statement last week said that never before have attempts been made to postpone elections unconstitutionally in Sri Lanka. This is because the government is taking every possible step to thwart the opposition’s penchant for gauging their popularity in the country. More crucially, the election will make the government confront the reality of its unpopularity with the people.

The opposition political parties are blaming President Ranil Wickremesinghe for the current fiasco concerning local government elections. They claim the president is delaying the elections intentionally because he is afraid of the outcome. They are of the opinion that the government is using delaying tactics to prevent the opposition from testing its popularity in the country. They claim that he deliberately slammed the brakes on the election process by issuing various administrative circulars from time to time through the Treasury and the presidential secretariat. The latest is that the Finance Ministry Secretary Mahinda Siriwardene, after a meeting with ElectionsCommission officials, has said that the prevailing economic crisis has prevented him from releasing the necessary funds to hold theelection. He has said the Treasury can only release money for essential expenditures, and all non-essential expenditures need to be approved by the Finance Minister, who is also the President. In a new development last week which critics view as another attempt to torpedo the election, the head of the Government Printer Gangani Liyanage said she is unable to deliver the ballot papers for the postal vote on the scheduled date. Opposition parliamentarians point out that on earlier occasions the money is paid in tranches and never upfront.. Opposition parties will however continue to push for the elections as prescribed by the law and force the government to hold it. A government which infringes on people’s rights is adamant .Opposition parties are equally vocal in their opposition and are planning a major political offensive.

Can the opposition take the struggle to the streets with a populace which is becoming increasingly frustrated because of the economic burden that is being piled on them?

Nevertheless, trade unions are threatening a countrywide strike in March against the arbitrary actions of the government, especially the decision to increase personal taxes and electricity tariffs beyond the means of ordinary people. On Friday night, undergraduates at the Kelaniya University took the police by surprise with a lightning protest.  They were demanding the release of two of their peers who are being detained arbitrarily.

Against all this hullabaloo, there is some hope that Wickremesinghe, who is a signature brand in a liberal democracy, will come round to holding elections, not because of the threats by the JVP firebrand Anura Kumara Dissanayake but because of the position he is holding with the International Democratic Union as its ex-officio vice president and the president of the Asia Pacific Democratic Union, which is known as the Global Alliance of the center-right.

If Wickremesinghe attempts to put off the elections by holding the reins of the Sri Lankan government, it does not augur well for him as a sworn democrat with close ties to western democracies.

According to the opposition, the president is turning the tables on democratic and independent institutions to suit his whims and fancies. This is by creating a lopsided democratic model he thinks is right for Sri Lanka, but the people are observant and tolerate it with much chagrin because of the weight and politicization of the state security apparatus.  Some like western province DIG Deshabandu Tennekoon have been going beyond the call of duty.

Wickremesinghe’s actions have been seen as a way of controlling the media, trade unions and civil society, as well as curtailing the rights of democratic institutions with executive interfering. This has led to an atmosphere of mistrust among the people, who are now wary of their government and increasingly opposed to the president’s policies which will eventually backfire on him.

The country’s intelligentsia is lamenting that we have a democracy in which the rule of law is damaged or flawed because of meddling by the executive and legislature. This is because constitutional norms are being manipulated and violated with impunity and have little or no effect on officials and their actions.

The duty of an elected government is to uphold the constitution and act accordingly; any breach of this duty will lead to an erosion of faith in the democratic system Sri Lankans have treasured since 1931, when they gained the universal adult franchise. The brain drain that is evident today is due to the lack of systems in place, resulting in a situation where professionals and youth have a difficult time finding a way out of the predicament in which they find themselves due to the follies of politicians.

The period from 2005 to 2015 marked the most turbulent period that Sri Lanka has ever faced. It was a rather despotic leader who did everything at his disposal to arrogate power to himself, his family, and a coterie of friends. This furthered nepotism at the expense of unsuspecting people.

Frequently, their financial shenanigans are hidden from the public eye under a veil of secrecy.

Rajapaksa accumulated their wealth under the cover of ethnic war and brought the country to the brink of disaster. Nobody could make it the country the people saw many years ago.

People do not blame everyone who ruled the country, even though left-wing parties do not see the positive aspects of how the past leaders handled day-to-day issues. In today’s context, matters are more complicated than they were, with regional conflicts cropping up for supremacy from time to time.

India being an emerging superpower at our doorstep and China being the second largest economy in the world, exert enormous pressure on Sri Lanka. This pressure is in a constant state of motion, resembling a pendulum. Nevertheless, Chinese assurances to unlock the IMF package are critical at this point in time for Sri Lanka’s economic revival. This is because Sri Lanka’s debt burden is causing enormous problems politically and otherwise.

Meanwhile, according to NDTV, India has called on China to take losses willingly on loans lent to struggling economies. It has also asked the world’s biggest bilateral creditor to developing countries to refrain from taking positions that would virtually stifle relief for nations such as Zambia and Sri Lanka. India believes that it is in China’s interest to act in the spirit of solidarity and support efforts to provide relief to developing nations. This would help with the global economic recovery, which in turn would benefit China in the long run.

“China needs to come out openly and say what their debt is and how to settle it,” stated Amitabh Kant, India’s spokesman during its presidency this year of the Group of 20 forum, the world’s biggest economies. “It can’t be that the International Monetary Fund takes a haircut and helps settle Chinese debt.” How is that possible? “Everybody has to take a haircut,” Kant said.

IMF data show that about 60 percent of the world’s poorest nations are in or at high risk of data distress.

The G-20 has devised a “blueprint” known as the “common framework’ to restructure the loans of struggling countries. It brings the Paris Club of traditional rich debtor countries together with China to try to restructure the debts of low-income countries on a case-by-case basis.

Disagreements on how to handle some debt have delayed using the framework. Beijing has called for the debt of multilateral lenders to be included in the restructuring of struggling nations’ loans, a move that the World Bank has firmly rejected.

This impasse has complicated the process of finding a resolution to the debt crisis. The situation poses a challenge for negotiations and the revival of the economies of the most impoverished countries.

In a critical bid to resolve the deadlock, western lenders, including the Paris Club of creditors, have asked China to stop standing alone on debt relief.

The IMF, World Bank, and India were to host an inaugural meeting to deal with global debt issues on Friday. This meeting was to bring together creditors including China with borrowing countries to try to hash out solutions for nations with unsustainable debt levels.

Talks will be held before the meeting of the G-20 nations’ fiscal and monetary leaders in Bengaluru, India.

World Bank data released in December showed the 75 poorest nations owed their creditors about $326 billion at the end of 2021.

“Debt restructuring will be one of the issues that India will focus on,’ said Mr. Kant in an interview. ‘Finance ministers and central bankers will also discuss the World Bank’s plan to expand lending, he said adding that support from US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has the “potential to push things forward.”

Mr. Kant’s comments come after Yellen last week deepened her call for an overhaul of the World Bank, urging the lender to extend its balance sheet more aggressively and to work harder at mobilising private-sector money to help address global challenges like climate change and pandemics.

“These institutions will have to be redesigned,” he said. The world needs the World Bank and IMF to make a lot more credit guarantees. They need to do first-loss guarantees. The first loss guarantee is a mechanism whereby a third party compensates lenders if the borrower defaults. As the third party pays for the losses, lenders are more likely to give out loans.

Mr. Kant has also said they need to do a lot of blended finance, which is not happening.

Blended finance is the strategic use of development finance for the mobilisation of additional finance towards sustainable development in developing countries. Blended finance attracts commercial capital to projects that contribute to sustainable development while providing financial returns to investors.

He also added that multilaterals need to focus on indirect lending.

Energy sharing with India is yet another aspect that Sri Lanka is looking forward to implementing. Once the economy is revived, the energy-sharing mechanism will contribute in many ways to sustaining it. It may take another year or two for the mechanism to come into force.

Sri Lanka and India will sign a pact to link their power grids and start negotiations on an upgraded trade agreement within two months.

“We have to have growth; otherwise, our economy will shrink,” Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Milinda Moragoda said.

He told Reuters news agency: “As far as growth is concerned, India offers that prospect.” So we will have to move on from that. Tourism from India, investment from India, and integration with India. That’s what we have to do.”

A key part of Sri Lanka’s economic recovery plan rests on developing its renewable energy resources in the island’s north, from where power can be transported to southern India through a cross-border transmission cable.

Last year, the two countries resumed talks on linking their electricity grids. Moragoda said a memorandum of understanding on the project will be signed within two months, followed by a feasibility study.

Other neighboring countries are also sharing their energy resources with India. Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Burma have already established power links with India. Sri Lanka may exploit this opportunity to export power to neighboring India.

However, the JVP-backed Jathika Jana Balawegaya is opposed to any move to invite international investors to handle the country’s energy sector which is crucial for national security. All the other opposition parties also have their own policies about handling energy in collaboration with foreign investments. However, it is critical that Sri Lanka as a country explores new avenues of earning much-needed foreign exchange to sustain the economy and find a way out of the present economic quagmire.



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