Sri Lanka parliament votes in new president

World

Sri Lanka’s acting president has become the country’s new permanent leader after being selected in a parliament vote.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as the prime minister in May 2022 but was temporarily placed in charge of the presidency on 13 July after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives.

Sri Lanka is in the midst of an economic crisis and has been unable to pay for crucial imports like food, fuel and medicine.

Mr Rajapaksa fled after thousands of protesters stormed his presidential residences and other government buildings, demanding his resignation.

Sri Lankans had previously called for Mr Wickremesinghe to resign as prime minister, with protestors burning down his private home and storming the prime ministerial office in Colombo.

Mr Wickremesinghe defeated his main rival for the position, Dalus Alahapperuma, with 134 votes to 82.

Following his election, the new leader told MPs that Sri Lanka is “in a very difficult situation, adding “we have big challenges ahead”.

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He will be hoping to restore political stability so Sri Lanka can resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package after talks stalled recently.

But his election may cause further protests with opponents calling on Mr Wickremesinghe to step down.

He has previously held the role of prime minister six times and has been involved in Sri Lankan politics for 45 years.

Ranil Wickremesinghe
Image:
Ranil Wickremesinghe was previously the prime minister

Around 100 people gathered on the steps of the presidential secretariat, with one protestor saying they are “shocked”.

“He’s a person handling things in a very cunning way,” protester Damitha Abeyrathne said of Mr Wickremesinghe.

“He will start controlling us in a different way. As protesters, we will start our struggle again.”

Analysis


Dominic Waghorn - Diplomatic editor

Dominic Waghorn

International Affairs Editor

@DominicWaghorn

The news from parliament caused shock among protesters.

MPs were voting to replace hated president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been ousted.

Protesters were expecting them to vote for a national unity government.

Instead, they have opted for a man seen as a stooge of the Rajapaksa clan.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is despised by protesters.

His election has caused disappointment and anger – many were lost for words.

What happens next though depends on the public’s appetite for more protest.

Will people stay at home and give Wickremesinghe a chance to save their collapsing economy?

Or will they return to the streets in the numbers we saw last week, occupy government buildings again, and demand meaningful change?

Chameera Dedduwage, an organiser of previous protests, said one of the goals of the movement was the removal of Mr Rajapaksa, and with that achieved, it “will have to be satisfied with its primary demand”.

“Unlike GR, Ranil is not a populist: he’s known to be a ruthless pragmatist,” Mr Dudduwage said.

Supporters celebrate after Ranil Wickremesinghe  was  elected as the Eighth Executive President under Sri Lanka's Constitution
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While some were shocked by the result, others celebrated the decision

Following the result, the speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, postponed parliament until 27 July.

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