The Anglican Church in Sri Lanka has joined calls against moves to postpone elections in the country that have been earlier set on March 9.
“The hallmark of any democracy is the opportunity it affords citizens to choose their own elected representatives at the due time,” read a statement from the Church released on February 25.
“Denying that opportunity to our people will only affirm the fact that we are now under a dictatorship,” added the statement signed by Bishops Dushantha Lakshman Rodrigo of Colombo and Keerthisiri Fernando of Kurunegala.
Sri Lanka’s independent election commission indefinitely postponed local polls on Friday after the president — installed by parliament last year after his predecessor fled — refused to fund the vote.
The March 9 polls would only have picked local councilors but would be the first electoral test for Ranil Wickremesinghe since he took office in July after months of protests over the island’s worst-ever economic crisis.
They were seen by many as a de facto referendum on unpopular austerity measures he has imposed as he seeks to secure an International Monetary Fund bailout.
But the five-member election commission panel said the vote would not be held as scheduled as Wickremesinghe’s administration had refused to provide the necessary 10 billion rupees (US$27 million) and logistical support.
The announcement came a day after Wickremesinghe warned parliament that holding an election during the economic crisis could be disastrous.
“We will not have a country if the economy does not develop,” he said.
The Anglican bishops noted that the people “have now been burdened with painful economic measures which could have been averted if the right thing was done at the right time.”
“Needless to say, the vast majority of this country, who are made up of intelligent and hardworking people, are now facing hardships due to negligence and arrogance of a select group of politicians and public officials,” it added.
They said said the government “has no moral right to withhold funding” for the elections.
“The country needs unity and democracy to face the political and economic challenges ahead,” they said.
On Monday, the World Bank offered a lifeline to three private banks in Sri Lanka, lending them US$400 million to finance imports of essential food and medicines with an IMF bailout stalled.
The World Bank’s private sector funding arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is lending the trio the funds with Sri Lanka’s economic crisis still rumbling on.
The South Asian nation of 22 million has been enduring severe hardships since it ran out of foreign exchange to finance essential food, fuel, medicines and fertilizer in late 2021. It defaulted on its debt in April 2022.
Months of protests forced the president to resign in July and the new government of Ranil Wickremesinghe sought a US$2.9 billion rescue from the IMF a month later.
But authorities say it is being held up because Sri Lanka’s main bilateral creditor China has not yet provided financial assurances.
The IFC said its loan arrangement with Commercial Bank of Ceylon, Nations Trust Bank and Sampath Bank will “support the private sector with critical financing, contributing to the country’s urgent need to stabilise the economy.”
Ratings agencies have said Sri Lanka’s entire financial sector was under severe stress, with the sovereign debt default undermining the credibility of all local banks.
A government ban on non-essential imports remains in place in a bid to save foreign exchange.
Wickremesinghe has doubled taxes and raised fuel prices and utility tariffs three-fold in line with IMF demands to raise government revenue before a bailout. He is facing widespread trade union protests as a result. – with a report from AFP