Friday, April 12

Sri Lanka president vote: Ranil Wickremesinghe wins amid protests | Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickeremesinghe, has won a parliamentary vote by electing him as president, a result that is likely to frustrate protesters who have been calling for weeks for him to resign.

Wickremesinghe, who has been prime minister six times but never president, won an overwhelming victory in parliament on Wednesday morning, where MPs voted for the new president in an unprecedented secret ballot. The vote came after protesters forced former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa from office amid anger over a spiraling economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe faces a tough road ahead as Sri Lanka struggles through its worst economic crisis since independence, and faces a mass crisis of trust in parliament. In his first speech following his victory, Wickremesing called on all political parties to work together for the good of the country.

Wickremesinghe’s election follows a dramatic week in Sri Lanka, during which Rajapaksa was toppled after his offices and his palace were stormed by thousands of protesters, who jumped in his pool and worked out in his gym. Amid the anger, Rajapaksa was forced to flee to Singapore via the Maldives and his resignation was formally announced last Friday.

This was the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that a sitting president has been toppled mid-term by a mass protest movement.

Wickremesinghe, 73, had the backing of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP), which has the most seats in parliament, and was seen as the candidate favored by the Rajapaksa family, who despite no longer being in power have significant influence over the party they formed.

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Wickremesinghe beat competition from another SLPP MP, Dullas Alahapperuma, who was part of a breakaway group of the party and who had the support of the major opposition parties. However, it appeared that in the vote, most of the ruling party MPs had rallied behind Wickremesinghe and secured his victory with 134 votes out of 219, while Alahapperuma got just 82.

Present in the parliamentary chamber for the vote were three members of the Rajapaksa family who still remain MPs, including Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s older brother, the former president and prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was the first public outing for the Rajapaksa family since Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to flee the country.

There has been fierce resistance and protests on the streets against a Wickremesinghe presidency. Many fear he will protect the powerful Rajapaksas from being held accountable and would not instigate the systemic change being demanded by the protest movement. In recent days, Wickremesinghe, who declared a state of emergency this week, had made statements calling protesters “fascists” and indicating he would crack down on the demonstrations if he became president.

Wickremesinghe has over four decades of experience in politics and has pitched himself as an experienced and capable pair of hands to guide Sri Lanka through its worst political and economic crisis in its history, and in particular help the country negotiate a critical bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

However, his legitimacy among voters has been tainted by his close relationship to the Rajapaksas, and many in the people’s protest movement, known as the Aragalaya, have vowed to continue their protests until he also steps down. As the secret ballot took place on Wednesday, a silent protest was held at the presidential secretariat in Colombo calling for Wickremesinghe to resign.

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Wickremesinghe will now serve for the rest of president Rajapaksa’s term till November 2024.

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