Sri Lanka gears up for delayed polls amid pandemic

Leader of Sri Lanka People's Front party and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, wearing a protective mask, waves at his supporters during a campaign rally ahead of country's parliamentary elections which are scheduled for August 5th 2020, in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka, August 1, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Sri Lanka gears up for delayed polls amid pandemic

  • A total of 7,452 candidates are contesting 225 seats in the ninth parliament of Sri Lanka, according to EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya

COLOMBO: More than 16 million Sri Lankans will go to the polls on Aug. 5 as the island nation holds its twice-delayed general elections with a particular focus on the prevention of COVID-19.
“Indelible ink will be applied (on the voter’s finger) when the voter is given the ballot paper to ensure that he or she does not come into the booth to vote again,” S. Achchuttan, deputy commissioner of the Election Commission (EC) told Arab News on Saturday, adding that sanitizing stations had been installed at all polling booths.
Other anti-virus measures include asking the voters to bring their stationery items to mark their votes on the ballot papers and to ensure social distancing while queueing up outside polling booths.
Additionally, voters will also be allowed to cast their votes from their hometowns after submitting a valid ID. As of Saturday, there were 2,815 infections recorded across the country, and 11 deaths.
Wednesday’s polls are being held after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa used his executive powers to dissolve the parliament on March 2, six months ahead of its full term, before calling for snap elections on April 25.
However, due to a rise in coronavirus infections across the island, the EC postponed the polls to June 20 before deciding to hold them on Aug. 5.
A total of 7,452 candidates are contesting 225 seats in the ninth parliament of Sri Lanka, according to EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.
There will be 12,794 polling booths manned by 135,000 election officials, with nearly 9,000 police officers stationed in key areas to ensure maximum security.
“So far, the EC has received more than 6,000 poll-related complaints, and suitable action is being taken to address the issues. All propaganda activities of the candidates and political parties will have to end at midnight on Aug. 2, two days before the polls,” Deshapriya said.

HIGHLIGHT

Officials say special measures in place to limit the spread of the outbreak.

Polling booths will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the count will be done the next day. The first results are expected around 5 p.m. that day, he said.
The leading contenders in the elections are the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party — led by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and supported by his brother, President Rajapaksa — and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Sajith Premadasa, son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa Sajith Premadasa. Premadasa contested the presidency last November and lost by nearly 1.5 million votes.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is also contesting the elections with his United National Party (UNP).
This year, the SLPP has also launched a Muslim wing to woo the Muslim voters in the country.
“Sadly, Muslims were supporting ethnic parties before; they were misled by the leaders of such groups,” said Ali Sabry, senior lawyer and president’s counsel, who is the head of this organization. He said that Muslims should “wake up and vote for the SLPP since they could be shareholders of the imminent victory of the party.”
Meanwhile, a group of women rights’ activists staged a demonstration in the war-torn areas of the north last week to push for the election of more women to the legislature.
The event was organized by the Mannar Women’s Development Federation, whose district coordinator is Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, and it attracted a large number of local residents. “We had only 12 women in the eighth parliament, which was too low,” Kurushanthan said.


Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

This picture taken on October 13, 2019 shows Indonesian migrant workers gathering near Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

  • $260m revenue boost to accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery amid pandemic

JAKARTA: After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia is set to send almost 90,000 migrant workers to overseas countries, including those in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

The move will deliver almost 3.8 trillion rupiahs ($260.8 million) in foreign remittances, officials said.

Migrant workers could begin leaving within weeks after the Manpower Ministry issued guidelines to conform with the country’s pandemic protocols.

“In order to boost the national economic recovery and considering that several countries have reopened to foreign workers, we think it is necessary to allow Indonesian migrant workers to work in destination countries, while complying with health protocols,” Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah told a press conference.

She said migrant workers whose employment had been suspended in recent months could generate about 3.8 trillion rupiahs in revenue and their remittances could accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery, especially in their hometowns and villages.

Fauziyah said the decision was made after consultation with domestic stakeholders and was based on updates from Indonesian embassies and trade missions abroad.

The government focused on 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, the UAE, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe — that wanted to welcome foreign workers back, despite the pandemic.

“We appreciate the ministry’s decision to lift the suspension, even though the reopening is still only to several countries,” Kausar Tanjung, secretary-general of Indonesian Labor Exporters Association (APJATI), told Arab News.

Most APJATI members are exporters of domestic and informal workers, who make up more than half of the 88,973 migrant workers whose departures to 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had been put on hold since March.

Ayub Basalamah, chairman of APJATI, said that it was time the March ministerial decree was revoked, adding that the association was “ready to comply with the health protocols in place” as part of the new rule.

The ministry said that Kuwait is willing to welcome workers from Indonesia in all formal sectors except health, while Algeria is opening its construction sector and Qatar its oil and gas sector. Indonesian workers in Turkey and the UAE will be allowed to work in the hospitality sector.

Placement of Indonesia’s migrant workers in the UAE is in line with a temporary travel corridor agreed between the two countries.

The agreement was announced last week to help business people, government officials and diplomats, and is based on a $22.9 billion investment deal signed during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year.

The APJATI said it will send domestic workers with secure employment to Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, while neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam remain closed to foreign workers in the informal sector.