Polls on hold; ailing UNP splits into two; Karu out, Ranil-Sajith in rival campaigns from Colombo Parties ignore call to bring in more women to parliament; celebrities in the fray   A bout an hour after nominations for the 2020 parliamentary elections closed at noon on Thursday, the Election Commission (EC) made the much anticipated [...]


Symptoms of a virus-hit general election 2020


  • Polls on hold; ailing UNP splits into two; Karu out, Ranil-Sajith in rival campaigns from Colombo
  • Parties ignore call to bring in more women to parliament; celebrities in the fray


A bout an hour after nominations for the 2020 parliamentary elections closed at noon on Thursday, the Election Commission (EC) made the much anticipated decision to postpone the polls due on April 25 indefinitely due to the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the poll due to the rapid spread of the disease, large numbers of political parties and independent groups ultimately filed their nominations with the EC to contest the election.

The nomination process took place in an orderly manner in the Puttalam District.

Preventive measures

To minimise the risk of infection, both the EC and police had urged political parties and independent groups filing nominations to ensure that their supporters did not gather outside district secretariats.  While most did adhere to these guidelines, there were certain cases where this was not done, as observed by EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.

Candidates, particularly in the districts where people had been advised to be self-quarantined, turned up to hand over nominations, wearing face masks, in a reflection of the extraordinary situation the country and much of the world are facing.

District secretariat officials had also taken preventive measures. They had installed sinks at the entrance to their premises for those who were coming in to wash their hands with soap. Hand sanitizers were also made available.

According to the final statistics issued by the EC, a total of 304 nominations from recognised political parties and 313 from independent groups have been accepted by the Commission, while 35 nomination papers filed by political parties and 45 by independent groups have been rejected on various grounds. A total of 7,452 candidates — 3,652 from recognised political parties and 3,800 from independent groups — will be contesting the elections across 22 electoral districts when they are held. They will be vying for 196 seats in the 225-member Parliament. The other 29 seats will be allocated via the national list.

The Colombo district has the largest number of candidates, with 924 in the fray. Gampaha is second with 693 while 540 candidates are to contest from the Digamadulla district. Other districts with a high number of candidates are Kandy (435), Vanni (405), Kurunegala (396) and Puttalam (352).

UNP's Ravi Karunanayake in Colombo

The UNP split

The two biggest developments regarding this election have been the tie-up between the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the split within the United National Party (UNP) which saw Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and his loyalists breaking away to contest the polls under the banner of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), leaving UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and those backing him to contest from the UNP.

The SJB will contest all electoral districts under the “telephone” symbol while the UNP will also contest all districts under its “elephant” symbol. The SLPP and its alliance parties, including the SLFP, will contest the election from the “lotus bud” symbol. The SLFP, though, has chosen to contest separately in the electoral districts of Nuwara Eliya, Kalutara, Jaffna and Vanni under the party’s “hand” symbol.

The split within the UNP saw some of the party’s central figures going with with the SJB. Accordingly, both UNP Leader Wickremesinghe and his one-time deputy Premadasa will contest from the Colombo district as rivals. Jathika Hela Urumaya Leader and former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka and former UNP Treasurer Harsha De Silva are among other candidates contesting from the SJB in Colombo.

For the UNP, former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and the party’s Ampara District Organizer, former Minister Daya Gamage will also contest from Colombo, as will Attorney-at-Law Chrishmal Warnasuriya, who was a national list candidate from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) at the last parliamentary election.

Big names

The JVP itself is contesting the election as the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (National People’s Power). Its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake handed over nominations on Thursday to contest from the Colombo district.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will contest from the SLPP in Kurunegala, the district from which he was elected to Parliament at the 2015 parliamentary elections. His son Namal and elder brother Chamal will contest again from Hambantota.

Former President and SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena will also attempt to make a comeback to Parliament, and signed nominations to contest on the SLPP ticket from his home district of Polonnaruwa.

JVP-led NPP Leader Anura Kumara in Colombo

In the Puttalam district, former MP Palitha Range Bandara will be the UNP’s district leader while his one-time parliamentary colleagues Niroshan Perera, Shantha Abeygunasekara and Hector Appuhamy will contest from the SJB. Mr Bandara will face a challenge to his seat in Anamaduwa from former UNP MP Ashoka Wadigamangawa, who will contest from the SJB.

In Puttalam, established political parties are expected to face a strong challenge from former Deputy Minister and current Puttalam Mayor K.A. Baiz. One of the founding members of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Mr Baiz has chosen to contest the upcoming election from a new political alliance called the United National Alliance.

Elsewhere, some other familiar faces who had been in Parliament before also handed in nominations to contest the upcoming election. Controversial former Minister Mervyn Silva was given nomination by the UNP to contest from the Anuradhapura district. SLPP Chairman and former Minister G.L. Peiris, meanwhile, has been included on the party’s national list while former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake and former Minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar are on the national list of the SJB.

Mangala Samaraweera (SJB) in Matara

Karu not contesting

Some who represented the last Parliament have either chosen not to contest or have not been given nominations by their respective parties. Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who tried in vain to mediate between the two warring factions of the UNP in a last ditch attempt to prevent the party from splitting, publicly announced that he would not support either side, and hence, has chosen not to contest the upcoming election or become a national list candidate.

Former Minister and Matara district MP Sagala Ratnayaka’s name, meanwhile, has not been included on the nomination lists filed by either the UNP or the SJB. Neither has his name been included in the national lists. Former Minister Sarath Amunugama and former State Minister Champika Premadasa have also chosen not to contest. Former Deputy Minister Nishantha Muthuhettigama, meanwhile, failed to make it to the SLPP’s nomination list for his home district of Galle.

Former MP Ven Athuraliye Rathana Thera also handed in nominations to contest the upcoming polls from the Ape Janabala Pakshaya (AJP). Joining him was Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Ven Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera who filed nominations for the AJP from the Kurunegala district. However, nominations filed by the party in Colombo, Kalutara and Kurunegala were rejected.

As has been the case in Sri Lankan elections for decades, politics is a family affair. Aside from the Rajapaksas, a large number of those from other political families are also contesting. In the Matale district alone, Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon is contesting from the SLPP along with his son, former Central Provincial Council Minister Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon. Meanwhile, brothers Ranjith and Wasantha Aluwihare, both former MPs, will contest from Matale under the telephone symbol of the SJB. The split within the UNP is also being felt acutely by one powerful political family in the district.  Former UNP MP Rohini Kaviratne is contesting from the SJB while her sister Manel Kumari Wijerathna has been given nomination from the UNP.

JVP's Sunil Handunetti

Celebrities as candidates

Celebrities such as sports stars, actors and artistes are also contesting the election from various parties or have been included as national list candidates.

Popular actor Uddika Premaratne will contest from the Anuradhapura district through the SLPP while actress Oshadi Hewamadduma is among the party’s candidates from the Badulla district.  Actress Geetha Kumarasinghe, who was famously stripped of her seat in the last Parliament by the Supreme Court over her dual nationality, is contesting from Galle from the SLPP.

Former Sri Lanka cricketer Tillakaratne Dilshan has been included in the SLPP’s national list. Film director and former Rupavahini Corporation chairperson Inoka Sathyangani is in the SJB’s national list while musician Nadeeka Guruge, actor Jagath Manuwarna and actress Deepani Silva have been included in the national list submitted by the JVP-led Jathika Jana Balawegaya (National People’s Power.)

Udaya Gammanpila in Colombo

Western Province Governor Dr. Seetha Arambepola also stepped down from her post this week after she was named as an SLPP national list candidate.

Excluding Ms Kumarasinghe, who lost her seat through a Supreme Court decision, the Eighth Parliament of Sri Lanka had only 12 female MPs at the time of its dissolution. During its final days, most of these female MPs came together to make a public appeal for political parties to field more female candidates. Unfortunately, the message does not seem to have resonated. For example, when the SLPP handed over its nomination list for the Puttalam district, it was revealed that all of the 11 candidates fielded by the party were men.

(Additional Reporting by Mahesh Keerthiratne in Matale and Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe in Puttalam)


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