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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK

World: South Asia

Sri Lanka poll avoids Ramadan

Voting will not take place during Ramadan

By Susannah Price in Colombo

The elections commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, has moved quickly to dampen speculation that the timing of the presidential elections will be controversial.

Newspapers had suggested the polls would be held in December in the middle of the Muslim Ramadan fast which provoked an angry reaction from Muslim MPs.

There was also speculation it might clash with O-level examinations, even though schools are often used as polling centres.

The commissioner, without specifying an exact time, said this would be avoided.

A year early

Analysts now believe the polls will be held after 10 January on an auspicious day.

[ image: President Kumaratunga: Opted for early elections]
President Kumaratunga: Opted for early elections
Last Wednesday, President Kumaratunga issued a proclamation, announcing the presidential elections will be held nearly a year ahead of schedule.

Normally, the elections commissioner would start the whole procedure by issuing a gazette notification and polls would be held within two months.

The commissioner, who is recuperating from an illness, hasn't yet issued this, but the polls could still be held in mid-January.

Budget accusation

The opposition United National Party said the early presidential election was called because the government was worried about its finance bill being defeated in parliament.

Once the election was called, the budget, which was due to be presented next Monday, was postponed.

President Kumaratunga says she wants a mandate from the people to continue her efforts to bring about devolution, which she's been unable to pass in parliament.

Although she is unlikely to repeat her massive victory in 1994, most believe she has a better chance of winning than her main rival, Ranil Wickremasinghe.

After a year taken up with campaigning for provincial elections, it looks as if once again politicians are going to be more concerned with campaigning rather than passing legislation.

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