As protesters burnt an effigy of acting Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe outside the presidential office, the message from the protesting street to the Sri Lankan Parliament is clear: we are watching you.
On the eve of Parliament meeting to elect a new president of Sri Lanka, the protesters, under the banner of Inter University Students Federation, met once again to impress upon the Parliamentarians to vote for a corruption-free Sri Lanka and not relics of the Rajapaksa era.
”We are watching all the Parliamentarians. Our work is only half finished with the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa That was step one. Ranil Wickremesinghe is also seen as part of the same environment. We want a clean break. Therefore, the future of our struggle Janatha Aragalya (people’s protests) depends on who our leaders choose,” says Visaka Jayaveera, a teacher and a protest leader in Colombo.
Armoured personnel carriers, commandos, soldiers with assault rifles, and policemen behind layers of barricades have been set up to keep Parliament safe from protesters.
WHO WILL BE SRI LANKA’S PRESIDENT?
Ranil Wickremesinghe, six-time premier of Sri Lanka, was seen as a front-runner in these elections till a few days ago. But a day before polling, Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa withdrew his candidature in favour of Dullas Alahapperuma, making him the Opposition candidate with support of some SLPP leaders, throwing a spanner in Wickremesinghe’s plans.
Premadasa tweeted, “For the greater good of my country that I love and the people I cherish I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the position of President. SJB and our alliance and our opposition partners will work hard making Dullas victorious.”
Analysts argue Sajith Premadasa was not sure of the numbers and had required a lot of persuasion to even throw his hat in the ring. Putting his weight behind Alahapperuma may be part of a bigger plan for future consolidation, but his withdrawal will come as a disappointment for the minorities supporting him.
This is now a three-cornered contest between Ranil Wickremesinghe, Dullas Alahapperuma, and Anura Kumara Dissanayake. With Sajith Premadasa withdrawing from the contest, it is expected to go down to the wire on the 225 member Sri Lankan Parliament between Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma.
Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by Dinesh Gunawardena, ruling party leader in Parliament. Wickremesinghe, analysts argue, is ahead in the three-cornered contest with majority of ruling SLPP legislators backing him. He also has spoken of a road map to secure food, fuel and gas supplies and claimed talks with the IMF were in an advanced stage to secure a bailout.
Dullas Alahaperuma is a former journalist and former education minister. Apart from the support of Sajith Premadasa, he also has the support of GL Peiris, chairman of the ruling coalition in parliament SLPP.
However, the general secretary of the SLPP Sagara Kariyawasam has decided to back Wickremesinghe, a clear indication of a rift in the ruling coalition. Seeing the rising anger on the streets, MPs are seen as trying to distance themselves from the Gotabaya Rajapaksa corruption taint.
In a secret ballot, it becomes very interesting to see who the party MPs will vote for, especially at a time when the protesting students and trade unions have warned of watching the outcome to decide their next course of action and who to vote for in next elections.
Anura Kumara Dissanayeke is the left leader of JVP, people’s front. He is seen as a fiery left leader who had served as minister of agriculture in 2004 when Chandrika Kumaratunga was President of Sri Lanka.
In the 225-member Parliament, whichever candidate secures the highest votes polled will be president for the remaining term of the current presidency till November 2024. Ideally, 113 of 225 would be the mark, but the process is more complicated if no clear winner emerges to reach the mark. Then the first preference votes of the candidate who secured the least number of votes and was eliminated comes into play.
With the angry protesters keeping an eye on the developments in Sri Lankan Parliament, the present remains uncertain while the future is tense.
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