‘Want to have joy again...,’ say Lankans as lawmakers select new president

Updated on Jul 20, 2022 09:49 AM IST

Although Ranil Wickremesinghe is the frontrunner for president, demonstrators want him to resign because he was elected the prime minister by the Rajapaksas, not the people's mandate.

Protestors burn an effigy of acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe outside the president's office as they demand his resignation in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP)
Protestors burn an effigy of acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe outside the president's office as they demand his resignation in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP)

Sri Lanka Parliament is all set to vote for the new president on Wednesday to succeed Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled his economically torn country amid protests to avoid detention. The Sri Lankan Parliament will today choose between three candidates for president – including acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe, ruling party lawmaker and former journalist Dullas Alahapperuma, and Anura Kumara Dissanayaka from the leftist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna party.

Protests erupted again on the eve of elections against the island's prime minister and acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe. Demonstrators still want him to resign despite his efforts to convince them that he had distanced himself from the Rajapaksa administration.

“We want to have joy again... The new President shouldn't take decisions just for his glory, and work for the nation's betterment. Our concern is that those nominated are the same people, we don't expect much change,” says a Sri Lankan protesting on the island nation, which is set to elect a new president today.

Indian high commission issues advisory amid protests

Sri Lankans held protests against the acting president outside the Colombo railway station. They arrived with Ranil's effigy at Fort Railway Station in Colombo shouting anti-Ranil Slogans. They also wore headbands "Go Ranil Go Home" after "Go Gota Go home" slogans used for ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

"Relations between the people of India and Sri Lanka have always been cordial and friendly. In the current situation, Indian nationals in Sri Lanka are requested to remain aware of latest developments and accordingly plan their movements and activities. You may contact us when required," the Indian high commission in Colombo said in a tweet.

How will the elections be held?

Parliament was heavily guarded on Tuesday by hundreds of soldiers, its entry points barricaded to avoid scenes like last week when protesters briefly took over several public buildings.

All of 225 members of the Parliament will begin their vote at 10 am and it will be taken through a secret ballot presided over by the secretary-general of Parliament. The votes will be counted and announced immediately.

Candidates need more than half the vote to be elected. If no-one crosses the threshold on first preferences, the candidate with the lowest support will be eliminated and their votes distributed according to second preferences.

Of the three candidates, Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be the frontrunner of the race.

Wickremesinghe's lead comes at a cost

Wickremesinghe secured support from the leadership of the Rajapaksas' SLPP – still the largest single bloc in parliament – and his hardline stance against protesters went down well with MPs who have been at the receiving end of mob violence.

However, protests have turned intense and violent and demonstrators want Wickremesinghe's resignation. Protestors have argued that Ranil Wickremesinghe didn't come through a proper people's mandate but was chosen by the Rajapaksa regime.

"Since he was appointed by the regime. That corrupt regime is supporting Wickremesinghe. So we are forcing him to leave," the protestors were quoted as saying.

‘Here to handle economy…’

Wickremesinghe – who first replaced Gotabaya's brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister and was then appointed as the acting president – urged voters and demonstrators to believe him, saying he was not in the "same administration" as the Rajapaksas.

“I’m not the same, people know that…I came here to handle the economy,” Wickremesinghe told CNN in an interview on Monday, as he sought to distance himself from Rajapaksa, the person under whom he had worked for the past two months to rescue the debt-ridden Sri Lankan economy.

Other candidates in the race

Wickremesinghe's fractured leadership is facing a close fight from former media minister Dullas Alahapperuma.

On Tuesday, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, who had earlier expressed his desire to contest for the post of president, announced that he would withdraw his presidential nomination. He said his party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) will support Alahapperuma in the vote for the next president of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, leftist leader Anura Dissanayake, whose coalition has just three parliamentary seats, is a distant third.

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