Colombo, Jun 10 (efe-epa).- Sri Lanka is set to hold its parliamentary elections on 5 August, the country’s National Election Commission announced on Wednesday after having to postpone the crucial polls twice due to restrictions linked to the Covid-19 epidemic.
“We couldn’t hold the election before because of coronavirus. We have done our best. The parliamentary general election that was to be held on 20 June will be held on 5 August,” NEC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya told reporters.
He added that the decision was taken unanimously by all three members of the NEC.
The elections were initially set to be held on 25 April, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the parliament in early March following a landslide victory in November’s presidential polls.
The date was shifted to 20 June after lockdown measures were announced in mid-March.
The island nation has registered 11 deaths and around 1,860 cases of the new coronavirus as of Wednesday, with the rate of infection slowing in recent weeks and no new deaths reported since the beginning of the month.
Authorities have gradually eased restrictions since the later half of May, and currently travel restrictions are being imposed only between 11 pm and 4 am.
Former lawmaker Bimal Rathnayake told Efe that holding the election could not have been avoided any further, as according to the constitution the parliament has to be reconvened within three months of its dissolution, a period which has already expired on 2 June.
“We think, if the numbers we are seeing are true, the government has controlled the coronavirus outbreak in the country to some extent,” he said.
However some parties and citizens’ groups have opposed the move citing health risks linked to the epidemic.
The national coordinator of the Center for Monitoring Election Violence, Manjula Gajanayake, told Efe that elections should be held aiming for “zero casualties.”
He put the estimated cost of the polls at 7 billion rupees ($38 million), although adding that ““this could increase because we have to have sufficient procedure in place during the pandemic.”
This is a massive expenditure for an economy struggling to recover from the lockdown, with crucial sectors such as tourism completely grinding to a halt.
The elections are set be held under strict health protocols with campaign meetings limited to a maximum of 100 people, while NEC has recommended using the print and electronic media for propaganda and cutting down physical meetings to avoid exposure to the virus.
The commission has also limited house-to-house campaigns to a maximum of three people.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn-in as president after an easy victory in the November polls on the back of an agenda focused on national security.
Soon after, he appointed his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister and dissolved the opposition-majority parliament.
Gotabaya’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party has to win majority in the house in order to secure the government’s full control in the semi-presidential representative democracy. EFE-EPA