If there is a will there is a way. That appears to be the thinking of the government regarding elections.

For several months now, the government has been trying its level best not to conduct local government elections. To achieve that objective, it has employed a series of blatant and nefarious tactics from instructing ministry secretaries to send out illegal circulars to withholding funds for the printing of ballot papers, violating an order from the Supreme Court in doing so.

The collective opposition has tried somewhat to counter these tactics, but in vain. The major opposition party in Parliament, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has taken to challenging the government’s actions in the courts of law. Although it has recorded some wins in obtaining orders from the Supreme Court compelling the government to conduct the polls, the government has brazenly ignored them, so they mean nothing.


The other major opposition party that commands a significant following, the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) has opted to adopt a different strategy, conducting public rallies throughout the country. While this has led to a surge in popularity for the JJB, this must have also come at great financial cost to the party for no return- because the elections have not been held and the momentum gained by the JJB is slowly dissipating.


Where the SJB and the JJB erred is that they feared each other’s ascendancy and began attacking each other towards the latter stages of their campaign for the local government elections, forgetting their real political enemy, President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Whatever his faults, Wickremesinghe is still able to exploit such weaknesses. That is exactly what he has done.


Where the local government elections are right now is anybody’s guess. Officially at least, it has been postponed and no new date has been set. It is certain that the poll would not be conducted on April 25. The Election Commission has refrained from announcing a new date because that would have been an exercise in futility. Barring an order that explicitly commands the Commission to conduct the election in a prescribed manner, the dilly-dallying will continue. Officials, both in the government and in the Elections Commission appear to be more fearful of offending Wickremesinghe, than they are of committing an offence of contempt of court!

Therefore, the government has willed that there will be no local government elections, or for that matter provincial council or parliamentary elections, that will give an advantage to the opposition. To do so, it has found many ways of circumventing these polls.

On the other hand and in stark contrast to the government’s arguments that there are no funds to conduct elections right now, we are beginning to hear noises about an early presidential election. No one raises the ‘lack of funds’ argument for these elections. This is despite the fact that, constitutionally, there is no provision for a presidential election until October 2024.

All this is because President Wickremesinghe believes his star is on the ascendancy after obtaining the bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a few days ago. The deal- which imposes significant hardships on the public and sells off government assets- nevertheless allows some breathing space for the government, enabling them to provide a few concessions to the masses. For example, a fuel price reduction has already been announced.

Wickremesinghe’s plan is to bask in the reflected glory of the IMF package, portray himself as the economic saviour who eliminated queues and shortages of gas and fuel- and then run for President as soon as he can, before the voters forget all of that.

There is a constitutional roadblock that he has to clear first, though. The Constitution allows an elected President to declare a presidential election after four years have expired in his term of office. However, Wickremesinghe is only a stand-in President who was chosen by Parliament to complete the remainder of the term office of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected in November 2019. As such it has been suggested by some that he can call an election by November 2023, just eight months from now.

That is not so. The Constitution, in Clause 31(e) states that, “A person succeeding to the office of President under the provisions of Article 40 shall not be entitled to exercise the right conferred on a President by sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph”. This refers explicitly to a President chosen by Parliament to complete the remainder of the term of an elected President. Therefore this applies to Ranil Wickremesinghe who is unable, as the Constitution currently stands, to seek an early election before the kudos from the IMF bailout evaporates from the public mind.

Despite this obvious and very real constitutional hurdle, Wickremesinghe’s acolytes are making public comments that an early presidential poll is in the offing and that this is “what the country needs right now”. First it was Wickremesinghe’s loyal and faithful servant Vajira Abeywardena who said so. Now, Naveen Dissanayake is singing the same tune.

What does this portend? As we have noted with the local government elections, if there is a will, there is way, either to not conduct elections when they are due or, conversely, to conduct elections when they are not due. The latter is what the Wickremesinghe camp will now try to do with regard to presidential elections.

To do so, they will need to amend the Constitution. To achieve that, they will require a two-thirds majority in Parliament. On paper that appears to be an uphill task right now with the government barely having a simple majority. That should not make us complacent that it is too far-fetched and therefore will not happen.

As President, Wickremesinghe has command of Cabinet portfolios which he can dole out at his whim and fancy. He has refused to dispense with the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Cabinet that he inherited, bar G.L. Peiris. With at least another dozen portfolios up his sleeve, one cannot put it past Wickremesinghe to ‘buy’ the loyalty of parliamentarians in return for a Cabinet post.

If that is what it takes for Wickremesinghe to conduct an early presidential election, that is what he will do because, for him, if there is a will, there is a way.


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