When Ranil Wickremesinghe unexpectedly became President in July last year upon the sudden resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his solitary United National Party (UNP) National List seat in Parliament fell vacant. As party leader, Wickremesinghe could have nominated anyone to fill that vacancy. He chose one man: Vajira Abeywardena.

That same Vajira Abeywardena made a serious statement last week. Abeywardena said that the government wouldn’t be able to meet the basic requirements of the people if funds were allocated through the 2024 Budget for the presidential election.

There is a ring of déjà vu to that. A few months ago, when there was a public clamour for local government elections, Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking in Parliament, mocked and ridiculed those demanding local government polls. “There is no election,” he said, “and even if there was, there is no money for it.”

Abeywardena, a former Minister of Public Administration, in the time he has been the solitary Member of Parliament of the UNP, has acted as the general factotum of Wickremesinghe, at times making absurd remarks such as when he said that Wickremesinghe will usher in such prosperity for Sri Lanka that European housemaids will serve in the country. He also said that no world leader can afford to talk down to Wickremesinghe because the latter enjoys such a stature in the international community.    

Despite such a history, Abeywardena’s remarks about the presidential election cannot be dismissed out of hand as being the delirious utterances of a political maverick, though the latter he very much is. What he is above all though is His Master’s Voice. He echoes the sentiments of Ranil Wickremesinghe.


Wickremesinghe is known to often use Abeywardena to send out feelers to the electorate, to gauge what the public response would be to a particular political strategy. That is why Abeywardena’s remarks have to be taken with more than a pinch of salt and examined more closely, more so because Wickremesinghe has already postponed one crucial poll, the local government elections, indefinitely.

The tactics used to derail the local government elections due on March 09 this year need no repetition. They were downright despicable and an insult to democracy. It involved officials such as the Secretary to the Treasury, the Government Printer and some members of the Elections Commission.

Sadly, the judicial system in the country, to which the opposition parties appealed to, to compel the government to hold the election, were not robust enough to withstand the pressure from the Executive arm of the government. The general public, fatigued by their efforts at the ‘aragalaya’ last year and burdened by economic woes, didn’t have the strength to take to the streets en masse again.

In that instance political pundits who defended Wickremesinghe argued that conducting local government elections were not an absolute constitutional requirement and pointed out that this requirement applied only to major polls such as the presidential election and the general election.

Even with that argument, presidential elections will need to be held next year. However, its postponement is not impossible for someone who stoops as low as Wickremesinghe. He only has to take a leaf from precedents in our recent political history.


His uncle, J.R. Jayewardene, postponed general elections in 1982 by holding a referendum, just so that he could retain the massive majority he enjoyed in Parliament following the UNP’s 1977 landslide. That led to a plethora of problems that tarnished J.R.’s reputation forever.

In more recent history, the Elections Commission postponed the 2020 general election due to the Covid pandemic. In that instance, then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wanted the elections held as early as possible so he could cash in on the snowballing effect of the massive mandate he received in November 2019. At that time, it was ironically the opposition which was arguing for a postponement of the polls.

The circumstances in 2020 were cited as being due to “emergency or unforeseen circumstances” as the Covid pandemic was an unprecedented situation. To postpone the polls, then Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya utilised Section 24 (3) of Parliament Elections Act (No. 1 of 1981), which states that, “at the event of any emergency or unforeseen circumstances the election cannot be taken on the day specified in the notice relating to the election, it can be postponed”.

On that occasion, then Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, obviously acting on the instructions of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, wrote a strongly worded letter to Deshapriya urging him to conduct elections as soon as possible. To his credit, Deshapriya stood his ground because the pandemic was at its peak at the time and the polls were held only in August that year.

With such precedents and laws which allow for interpretation in a subjective manner, it could be the view of the government and the President that postponement of presidential elections is also unavoidable due to the unprecedented economic situation in the country.    


Although there have some whispers that a referendum could be held to postpone the presidential elections, then the postponement on the grounds that the country does not have finances for a national election cannot be sustained because the referendum will have a cost of its own.

Nevertheless, rumour has it that there is the possibility that Wickremesinghe could conduct a referendum on the abolition of the Executive Presidency and then stay on in office for a few more years under transitional provisions until the new Constitution is enacted. The beauty of this would be that most opposition parties who are clamouring for the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the enactment of a new Constitution would have no choice but to support such a proposal.

Public sentiment at the grassroots level is that voters are lying low waiting for the next national elections to teach the well-established political parties a lesson. Ranil Wickremesinghe, incompetent statesman that he is, is still as cunning and self-serving as they come and cannot be unaware of this. That is why the collective opposition should be alert and alive to his machinations as the deadline for the next presidential elections approach.