Sri Lankan lawmakers elect Ranil Wickremesinghe as new president


Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Wednesday elected as Sri Lanka’s President by Parliament, in a rare move that could provide continuity for ongoing discussions with the IMF for a bailout for the cash-strapped nation but a development likely to anger anti-government protesters who have been demanding his resignation from office for weeks.

The 73-year-old Acting President and six-time former prime minister won a parliamentary ballot after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country amid escalating protests over an economic crisis marked by dire shortages of essential imports such as fuel, medicine and food.

Wickremesinghe secured 134 votes in the 225-member House while his nearest rival and dissident ruling party leader Dullas Alahapperuma got 82. Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake secured just three votes during the voting held in Parliament amidst tight security.

In his victory address soon after the results of the vote were announced by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, President Wickremesinghe, key ally of former President Rajapaksa, thanked the two contenders, Dullas Alahapperuma and Anura Kumara Dissanayake, and urged the MPs to work together to save the country from further trouble.

“The people are not asking us for old . I request Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and other opposition parties including former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena to work together,” Wickremesinghe said.

“We were divided for the last 48 hours. That period is now over. We have to work together now,” he said, ahead of his planned swearing in ceremony on Thursday.

“Now that the election is over we have to end this division… From now on I am ready to have a dialogue with you,” he said.

Wickremesinghe also urged Sri Lankan Tamil leaders, some of whom who were opposed to his candidacy, to join him in rebuilding the nation.

The Indian High Commission here said it will continue to be supportive of the Sri Lankan people’s quest for stability and economic recovery, through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework.

“As a close friend and neighbour of and a fellow democracy, we will continue to be supportive of the quest of the people of for stability and economic recovery, through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework,” the Indian mission said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe’s victory could inflame the situation once again as many anti-government protesters see him as inextricably tied to the erstwhile Rajapaksa regime, blamed for the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Wickremesinghe was sworn-in as acting president on July 13 after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives and then to Singapore from where he resigned in the face of public revolt against his government’s mishandling of the country’s economy.

Rajapaksa initially fled to the Maldives and then landed in Singapore after thousands of protesters stormed his presidential residences and other iconic government buildings, demanding his resignation.

The anti-government protesters had also called for the resignation of Wickremesinghe, who was appointed prime minister in May by then president Rajapaksa. Protesters burnt down his private home and also stormed his prime ministerial office in Colombo in demonstrations against his leadership.

In his address, Wickremesinghe said the country was in a perilous state and the youth clamours for a change.

Wickremesinghe, who has been leading the crucial talks with the Monetary Fund (IMF), last week said that negotiations were nearing conclusion, and discussions for assistance with foreign countries was also progressing.

“The IMF hopes to complete negotiations with “as quickly as possible, & the moment there is a govt we can continue our discussions & our team will be there,” Hiru News quoted its Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva as saying.

The new President will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.

Wickremesinghe maintained a close edge as a number of MPs had pledged their support to him while his rival Alahapperuma had received crucial backing from the Opposition parties as well as a majority of lawmakers from his parent party – Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

Wickremesinghe, who has been in Parliament for nearly five decades, was appointed as prime minister in May, nearly two years after his United National Party (UNP) was routed and failed to win a single seat in the general election held in August 2020.

Widely accepted in political circles as a man who could manage the economy with far-sighted policies, Wickremesinghe is struggling to fix the economy which, he said, had collapsed at the time of his appointment in May.

Wickremesinghe, who is believed to be close to India and its leaders, has held many important posts during his political career spanning four and half decades.

This is for the first time in 44 years that Sri Lanka’s Parliament has directly elected a president. Presidential elections in 1982, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019 had elected them by popular vote.

The only previous occasion when the presidency became vacant mid-term was in 1993 when president Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated. DB Wijetunga was unanimously endorsed by Parliament to run the balance of Premadasa’s term.

The economic crisis also sparked a political crisis in the country after a popular uprising against the government.

Sri Lanka needs about USD 5 billion in the next six months to cover basic necessities for its 22 million people, who have been struggling with long queues, worsening shortages and power cuts.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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