Sri Lankan parliament elects six-time PM Wickremesinghe as new president

Sri Lankan protesters in Colombo demand the ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 20, 2022 shortly before parliament voted the six-time PM as the country's news president.
Sri Lankan protesters in Colombo demand the ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 20, 2022 shortly before parliament voted the six-time PM as the country's news president. © Eranga Jayawardena, AP

Sri Lanka's parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as president to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the crisis-wracked country and resigned last week. 


Official results showed Wickremesinghe polled 134 votes in a three-cornered Sri Lankan parliamentary vote, with his main opponent Dullas Alahapperuma getting 82 and leftist Anura Dissanayake just three - giving him an absolute majority on first preferences.

"Ranil Wickremesinghe has been elected as the eighth executive president under the constitution," the secretary general of parliament said after counting finished.

Addressing parliament shortly after the vote, Wickremesinghe declared the country’s “divisions are now over” and invited Alahapperuma to “join me and work together to bring the country out of the crisis we are facing".

Wickremesinghe also said he hoped to be sworn in later on Wednesday at a simple ceremony within the tightly guarded parliament building.

The win for Wickremesinghe, opposed by many ordinary Sri Lankans, could lead to more demonstrations by people furious with the ruling elite for the mismanagement that has plunged the country into a severe economic crisis.

Protesters already shouting “Ranil, go home!”

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, became acting president last week after then-incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore when protesters seized his official residence and office, roaming the corridors, using his gym and swimming in his pool.

Protesters also burned down Wickremesinghe's private home and stormed his office, but failed to oust him. Wickremesinghe said this week that by the time he joined the current government as prime minister in May, the economy had already collapsed.

Reporting from Colombo, the capital, FRANCE 24’s Navodita Kumari said protesters were already shouting, “Ranil, go home!” in early displays of discontent. “They are very angry, very disappointed, they all accuse Wickremesinghe of being an ally of the Rajapaksas, and that he has protected this family from corruption charges for years. They say that they are not going to stop protesting,” she said.

Sri Lankans blame the Rajapaksas – a political dynasty that had seven family members in government as of April – for the economic crisis. Their decisions to cut taxes and ban chemical fertilisers, which damaged crops, decimated the debt-laden economy, leaving it particularly vulnerable before the pandemic hit the critical tourism industry.

>> Read more: Rise and fall of political dynasty that brought Sri Lanka to its knees

The economic crisis has left Sri Lanka’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials including medicine, fuel and food while the government negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. And the resulting political crisis has left worries about whether a new government will be enough to fix the economy and placate a public furious at its politicians' failures.

Wickremesinghe, 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been leading the crucial IMF talks. Serving in a double role as the finance minister, he has delivered weekly addresses in Parliament cautioning that the path out of the crisis would be difficult, while also pledging to overhaul a government that increasingly has concentrated power under the presidency.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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