Local government polls will be conducted before the end of February, according to officials.

Sri Lanka has announced its first nationwide election since the president fled and resigned in the face of widespread protests in what will be a test of popularity for his successor.

Local government polls will be conducted before the end of February, officials said Wednesday, after being delayed by a year due to the pandemic.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who replaced his deposed predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa, may face embarrassment in the vote as he was his party’s sole representative in parliament.

Months of acute shortages of food, fuel and electricity since the end of 2021 led to mass agitation against the government of Rajapaksa which defaulted on the country’s $46 billion external debt in April.

Wickremesinghe, 73, a six-time prime minister, won a parliamentary vote to replace Rajapaksa with the support of Rajapaksa’s SLPP party, but has no popular mandate.

He reversed the tax cuts ordered by his predecessor and raised prices across the board as inflation hit a record high of nearly 70 percent.

Wickremesinghe has also ordered a crackdown on anti-government protests.

In the last local election in 2018, his United National Party won just 10 percent of 340 councils, conceding 231 to the SLPP.

He has tried to silence the polls by saying the bankrupt country cannot afford to spend the 10 billion rupees ($27.6 million) they would cost, but the Independent Electoral Commission went ahead anyway.

In a brief statement, the election commission said nominations for the more than 8,000 councilor positions will be open from January 18 to 21, after which voting must take place within 28 days.

The local polls, scheduled for February, cannot topple the current national administration.

Wickremesinghe will be given the power to dissolve the current parliament when it completes half of its five-year term on February 20, but he has shown no indication he wants to go for a quick parliamentary poll.

Constitutionally, presidential elections cannot be held until the last quarter of 2024.

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