Sri Lanka’s main opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), has come under fire from the ruling party after a meeting with a group of diplomats. The government accused the SJB of trying to influence the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to impose stricter conditions on Sri Lanka regarding the delayed local polls. The SJB has since defended the meeting, denying the allegations and clarifying its purpose.
Opposition MPs meet with diplomats
Chief Government Whip and Minister of Urban Development, Prasanna Ranatunga, made the allegations in parliament on March 23. He claimed that the SJB had sought the assistance of ambassadors or high commissioners in getting the IMF to impose tougher conditions on Sri Lanka with respect to the delayed local polls. However, opposition MPs led by the SJB denied these allegations.
Lakshman Kirella, an opposition and SJB legislator, confirmed that they did indeed meet the diplomats in question. He stated that the meeting was held to discuss the postponement of the local government election. Kirella added that under section 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, elections have to be held on time.
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa clarified that it was not just the SJB that took part in the meeting with the diplomats. MPs that were elected to parliament on the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket but now sit in the opposition as independents had also joined. Premadasa reiterated that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the delayed local polls, and that no requests were made to link the meeting to any benefits, grants, or loans due to be made available to the country.
SJB denies allegations of trying to influence the IMF
The SJB has denied allegations made by the government that it was attempting to influence the IMF to impose stricter conditions on Sri Lanka regarding the delayed local polls. Harsha de Silva, an SJB legislator who is part of an economic policy trio of the SJB, clarified the purpose of the meeting. He stated that they did not ask for conditions to be added to the IMF loan that is due, and instead thanked the ambassadors for the decisions they had made on behalf of the country.
Opposition accuses government of blocking local government election
Sri Lanka’s opposition parties, including the SJB, have accused the government of blocking the local government election. The election was originally due to be held on March 9 but has since been pushed to April 25. However, critics claim that the government is not interested in holding the polls, fearing a humiliating defeat for the SLPP.
IMF approves extended fund facility for Sri Lanka
The IMF approved a 2.9 billion US dollar extended fund facility (EFF) for Sri Lanka on March 22. This has allowed the country some much-needed breathing space in fixing its economy, which was left in tatters after the worst currency crisis the country faced in decades. IMF officials stated at a press conference that the delayed polls were never requested by the IMF.
Government claims lack of funds to hold polls
President Ranil Wickremesinghe and members of the government have repeatedly claimed that the government simply does not have the funds to go ahead with the local polls. The election is estimated to cost between 8 to 10 billion rupees.
The SJB’s meeting with diplomats to discuss the delayed local polls has caused controversy in Sri Lanka. The government accused the SJB of attempting to influence the IMF to impose stricter conditions on Sri Lanka. However, the SJB has denied these allegations and clarified the purpose of the meeting. The government has been accused.