SRI LANKA: In unprecedented conditions of a political crisis brought on by the island’s economic collapse, six-time prime minister and acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president of Sri Lanka on July 20. Despite a nearly half-century-long political career, he had never held the position.
In the 225-member Parliament, Wickremesinghe received 134 votes, giving him a comfortable victory margin in a three-way race. Despite numerous independent MPs, the main opposition, and most minor parties promising to support him on Tuesday, Dullas Alahapperuma, a formerly Rajapaksa-aligned, now independent MP, got 82 votes.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake, a candidate for the left-leaning Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, received just three votes.
“The time for division is over,” Wickremesinghe said in his first remarks after clinching Presidency. He urged all political parties to work together to restore the nation’s economy.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the Presidential Secretariat after Wickremesinghe was elected as Sri Lanka’s President.
Since Sri Lanka’s economic crisis deteriorated, Wickremesinghe, 73, has received three unlikely elevations this year. As the only representative of his United National Party (UNP), the current President was elected to the current legislation through the national list, which was based on the party’s overall vote share in the general elections of 2020.
He was named Prime Minister on May 12 by recently deposed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, succeeding Mahinda Rajapaksa. He resigned days earlier following violence started by his demonstrators who attacked peaceful anti-government protestors.
On July 13, Wickremesinghe was appointed Acting President, just ahead of Gotabaya’s resignation after he fled the island and took refuge in the Maldives and later Singapore after protesters stormed his office and home in an escalation of mass resistance to his government.
Wickremesinghe will serve as president during the nation’s most significant economic downturn since independence, leaving residents dealing with dire shortages and skyrocketing living expenses.
His victory, nevertheless, coincides with ongoing public demonstrations from citizen organisations who call him an “enabler” of Rajapaksa.
The accusation has been refuted by Wickremesinghe, who claims he merely became prime minister to stabilise the nation’s economy.
On Monday, Wickremesinghe asserted that since he became Premier in May, fuel distribution and power outages have improved.
However, thousands of citizens are still braving long queues for days together to purchase fuel. “I call upon all political parties in the country to put aside their differences and come together. I urge everyone to help form an All-Party Government which would allow the country to recover from the economic crisis,” he had said.
The Rajapaksa administration amended the Constitution in 2020, giving the president of Sri Lanka more freedom and increased immunity.
Wickremesinghe has promised to amend the Constitution to limit the Executive’s authority and give Parliament more control.