Thursday, 11 Aug 2022

Sri Lanka’s Wickremesinghe picked for new president, despite protests

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been voted in as its new head of state backed by a majority of MPs from ousted leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party, a development that could reignite streets protests in the bankrupt nation and scuttle bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Wickremesinghe, 73, beat Dullas Alahapperuma, a candidate who had the support from a faction within the ruling party, and left-leaning MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake from the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, by securing 134 or more than 50 per cent of votes cast in parliament on Wednesday.

The leader described the victory as an “honour and a privilege”, as he addressed parliament soon after the results were announced.

Protesters prepare to burn an effigy of acting president and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.Credit:AP

While Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party has not formally split – fissures have appeared as the group struggles to deal with the anti-government anger across the country. The main focus of the demonstrator’s ire so far was the former president, who fled to Singapore and resigned, after months of protests calling for his ouster culminated in thousands of demonstrators on July 9 storming his official residence.

The South Asian island nation is facing the worst economic and political crisis since its independence in 1948, with food, fuel and medicines in short supply and inflation seen touching 70 per cent.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe has been chosen as the new president in Sri Lanka.Credit:AP

However, it’s not immediately clear how Wickremesinghe’s win will be viewed by ordinary Sri Lankans – who are bearing the brunt of the crisis – suffering prolonged power cuts and massive queues for fuel. He is deeply unpopular among the protesters.

Earlier in the day, protesters gathered in the capital to demand his resignation and burn effigies.

Sri Lankans attend a peaceful sit down protest demanding the ouster of Prime Minister and acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday.Credit:AP

Demonstrators occupied his office and attempted to storm parliament last week, prompting Wickremesinghe to announce emergency rule – giving the army and police sweeping powers to detain and arrest people. He has blamed “fascist” elements for escalating tensions.

In a statement earlier in the week, Wickremesinghe laid out what he had done since being appointed prime minister by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in May when the largely peaceful protests turned bloody, forcing the resignation of older brother and strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe said he had led the country close to a conclusion in negotiations with the IMF for a bailout program and made progress in “discussions for assistance” with foreign countries.

Wickremesinghe has also called on political parties to come together and form an all-party government which would allow the country to recover from the economic crisis.

He was first elected to the legislature in the late 1970s and had an unbroken streak in parliament until 2020, when his party was trounced after the Easter Sunday bombings. The party didn’t win a single seat in the election but he returned as MP through a system where parties with enough votes can nominate a member under the “national list”.


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