Sri Lankan Members of Parliament voted acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s new president on Wednesday in a bid to extract the country out of the predicament of political and economic crisis.
“Ranil Wickremesinghe has been duly elected by parliament by a simple majority as the eighth executive president of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,” the parliament hall resounded with its secretary general Dhammika Dasanayake’s announcement of the vote.
The electee beat his main adversary Dullas Alahapperuma to the office. Mr Alahapperuma gathered 82 in the parliamentary vote against Mr Wickermesinghe’s 134 votes. His victory on Wednesday indicates he will serve out the rest of the presidential term until November 2024.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party said the majority of their members had voted for Mr Wickremesinghe because of his economic credentials. “We feel that Ranil Wickremesinghe is the only person with the experience, the know-how and the capacity to provide solutions to the economic crisis,” General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam told Reuters.
Once elected, Mr Wickremesinghe addressed the parliament saying the nation was “in a very difficult situation” and there were “big challenges ahead”.
But the island state’s new president is hardly as popular with its nation as it is with the MPs. Opposed by many ordinary Sri Lankans, Mr Wickremesinghe had already felt the wrath of the disgruntled demonstrators who, in protest of the economic crisis, burnt down his private home last week and also stormed his prime ministerial office in Colombo. Many protesters view him as part of the political elite.
The selection of Mr Wickremesinghe could prod the ire of the people furious with the establishment’s apathy in responding to drastic shortages of fuel, food and medicines, which in turn could perpetuate demonstrations and general social unrest.
But a semblance of understanding of the situation resounded in the electee’s speech. “What the people are asking of us is not the old politics. The parliament must unite in the face of these issues,” the 73-year-old said.
Now, he faces the task of leading the country out of its economic collapse and restoring public order after months of mass protests.
While Mr Alahpperuma had more popular support and the opposition’s backing, he did fall short of top-level governance experience in a country on the brink of bankruptcy and desperately in need of an IMF bailout.
He called on his political opponents to work with his government for the good of the country.
A six-time PM, Mr Wickremesinghe is a seasoned lawmaker with considerable financial experience with a record of being in Sri Lankan politics for 45 years.
Heartfelt congratulations to Hon. @RW_UNP for winning the confidence of Parliament to become the new President of Sri Lanka. I hope and pray that the difficulties faced by the SL people can now start to be resolved. 🇲🇻 will always be with the people of Sri Lanka 🇱🇰
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) July 20, 2022
Situation remains tense
With barricades set up around the parliament and soldiers lining the perimeter, security forces prepared for a renewal of demonstrations on Wednesday. Instead, they witnessed a respite with only small numbers gathering at the Galle Face Green protest site and chanting “Ranil Go Home”.
This week, Mr Wickremesinghe extended a national state of emergency with the view to preventing any flare-ups in protests. He has remained unaffected by the calls for his resignation, instead assuming the position of acting president after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled.
The multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, which won independence from the UK in 1948, sinks deep in soaring inflation which cut short some foods, medication and fuel supplies. The country is left with glaring fuel shortages and has been experiencing rolling blackouts.
Sri Lanka’s former president Rajapaksa fled the country last week bolting to the Maldives and then Singapore in a flight from thousands of protesters’ anger.
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