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Sri Lanka: Govt reduces presidential election budget by half!

The Cabinet-of-Ministers is used by President Ranil Wickremesinghe as a cat’s paw to postpone elections, says Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Reforms and Electoral Studies (IRES) Manjula Gajanayake.

A decision made by the Cabinet about elections, on 05 Feb., was detrimental to democracy, Gajanayake said. A statement issued by the Media Ministry about the Cabinet decision at issue, the following day, read: “The Cabinet-of-Ministers considered that an allocation of Rs. 10 billion has been made by the Budget estimate for the year 2024, within the financial stamina of the government and those provisions have to be managed for covering the expenditure of the presidential election and general election. Furthermore, it was observed by the Cabinet-of-Ministers that funds required for conducting provincial council elections and local government elections should be released from the Budget for the year 2025 owing to the limited financial situation. However, subsequent to conducting those two elections in the year 2025, the Cabinet-of-Ministers took into account that the revisions for the applicable election laws should be introduced subject to amendments of the Parliament, if required, based on the scheduled recommendations to be presented by the commission appointed to ‘Examine all existing election laws and regulations and make necessary recommendations for the amendment of election laws to suit current needs’  established under Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act No. 17 of 1948 (Chapter 393) by the extraordinary gazette notification No. 2354/06 dated 16.10.2023.  The Cabinet-of-Ministers decided to grant their concurrence to take necessary actions based on those facts furnished by the Hon. President.

The IRES Executive Director stressed that the Cabinet had no right to halve the fund allocations for elections because Parliament had approved Rs. 10 billion for the 2024 presidential election.

Commissioner General of Election Saman Sri Ratnayake told The Island that the Election Commission had estimated the cost of conducting the presidential election and the parliamentary election at Rs. 10 billion and Rs. 11 billion, respectively, and that the two estimates had been submitted to the government in August/September 2023.

The IRES Executive Director reiterated that the curtailment of the fund allocations for presidential and general elections by half would hamper the electoral process. As a result, election awareness campaigns on voting rights and campaign finance regulation, Election Dispute Resolution (EDR), and even security, might have to be scaled down.

Last year, the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance did not release funds for the Local Government at the behest of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Minister of Finance.

Gajanayake pointed out that according to the Sinhala copy of the Cabinet meeting minutes, the Provincial Council and Local Government elections will be held only after the report of the Presidential Committee appointed by the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2354/06 dated 16.10.2023 is received, nobody knew when the elections would be held.

by PRIYAN DE SILVA/The Island

20.02.24

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