Elections or economy? Which is first? | Sunday Observer

Elections or economy? Which is first?

5 March, 2023

The question of whether elections or the economy should take precedence is complex. The response may be deceptive politically, but it may also be sincere in public perception, as both are important for the well-being and stability of society. Hence, it can be difficult to prioritise one over the other.

The case for prioritising elections over the economy is rooted in the idea that democracy is the cornerstone of a free and just society. Free and fair elections are the foundation of a democratic system, and they allow citizens to have a say in who governs them and how they are governed. All these were guaranteed to the Sri Lankan people by the Constitution.

It is important to note that while postponing elections may be justified in some cases, it is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Postponing elections can have significant consequences, including a loss of faith in the democratic process, and can lead to a further deterioration of the situation that led to the postponement in the first place. As such, any decision to postpone elections should be made with careful consideration of all the factors involved and with the aim of preserving the integrity and fairness of the democratic process.


It is a fact that if the democratic process is compromised or undermined, then the legitimacy of the Government is called into question, and citizens may feel disenfranchised and alienated from the political process. Yet, if the country is in a bottomless pit in terms of economic stability, saving money for the essential public services and other unavoidable expenditures is more important than holding a Local Government (LG) election that cannot change the national policy framework.

Although it could be argued that the economy should take a back seat to elections, a strong economy is extremely important for the immediate survival of the country. In this context, the key question is whether the LG election, which appoints over 8,000 Members, will necessitate spending more than Rs.10 billion from public funds, as well as campaign expenditure in billions of rupees.

On the other hand, those who argue for prioritising the economy over elections point to the fact that economic stability is a prerequisite for political stability. A strong economy provides jobs and prosperity for citizens and allows Governments to invest in public services and infrastructure. In addition, the prevailing tremendously weak economic situation can lead to more social unrest, as citizens who are struggling to make ends meet may become disillusioned with the Government.


As a result, one segment of society believes that the Government should prioritise economic stability over elections, at least for the time being, because the upcoming LG election is not as important as a Presidential or a Parliamentary election.

They say that people may be more willing to tolerate temporary disruptions to the democratic process when they realise that the economy improves. However, this argument rests on the assumption that economic growth can be pursued independently of the political process, which may not always be the case.

Starting with the Covid-19 catastrophe, Sri Lanka is facing the most gruesome post-Independence crisis, both in the economy and in political stability. The repayment of foreign debts is at a standstill, but the interest component of such loans keeps escalating.

Sri Lanka cannot obtain any more foreign currency loans from any country in the world without providing evidence of repayment of existing debts. The only solace for the time being is the occasional aid package offered by friendly countries.

Adding salt to the wound, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has demanded strict measures to assist us financially. Although, theoretically and perhaps factually, these conditions imposed by the IMF will be immensely productive in the long run, their instant impact can be devastating to the general public.

For example, revitalizing and restructuring loss-making State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), increasing tax revenue, maintaining strict financial control through the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), and ensuring transparency in Government monetary transactions are not only dire necessities for the country but also a long-awaited public demand.

However, the Government is currently caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in terms of implementing these conditions.

Not only is the application of these conditions in the country a daunting task due to public protests, but it is also exceedingly damaging to the Government politically. Nonetheless, despite the vehement protests of several factions of society, the Government appears to be quietly implementing the majority of the IMF’s conditions.

Justifiably, the citizenry in general does not understand the technicalities of IMF conditions, the complexities of economics in a crisis, or governing a country. Quite rightly, they need a comfortable and peaceful existence.


On the one hand, the public fails to grasp the nitty-gritty of economic theories explained by scholars, and on the other, they are done believing politicians on any comment they make on any subject due to the prevailing huge mistrust.

An argument the Opposition parties put forward at this point is that if the Government can postpone the upcoming LG election due to the financial crisis, they will postpone the Presidential and Parliamentary elections as well. Yet, the public is also aware that such attempts were made by politicians unsuccessfully on a number of occasions during the past five decades.

The explanation of the Government, although the message communicated to the public is uninspiring and dull, is that they do not even have adequate funds to pay public servants’ salaries, let alone spend over Rs.10 billion on a LG election that is strategically unimportant.

Their argument is that such elections can and should be temporarily put off to subsidise more important matters such as Public Service salaries, pensions, healthcare, education, and so forth. They say that as of now, there are no interruptions to the services rendered by LG bodies.

However, in reality, the relationship between elections and the economy is complex and intertwined. A Government that is perceived as legitimate and accountable is more likely to enjoy public support for its economic policies. Hence, perhaps the intention of the Government may be to wait until things become better in public life.

Democratic process

However, in the context of the democratic process, it is difficult to prioritise one over the other, and any attempt to do so risks neglecting the important role that both elections and the economy play in society.

Nevertheless, if the immediate future of the country is at stake, every single citizen, including governing and Opposition politicians, must come to a consensus at this decisive moment, leaving petty politics behind if they are genuine patriots.

Governments can work to strengthen democratic institutions by promoting transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. This can help to build public trust in the political process and ensure that the Government is seen as legitimate and accountable to the people.

On the other hand, Opposition politicians may also appear honest and patriotic if they occasionally find amicable non-political consensus without opposing every move of the Government.

The question of whether elections or the economy should come first is a complex and multifaceted one. It is true that holding regular elections is an essential feature of democratic practice. However, the case for postponing elections is often made during emergency situations throughout the world.