Sri Lanka’s crucial presidential vote becomes a two-horse race

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s upcoming parliamentary election for an interim president has effectively become a two-horse race with two strong candidates emerging after opposition leader Sajith Premadasa’s last-minute quit.

The candidacies of Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankan Power MP Podujana Peramuan (SLPP) Dullas Alahapperuma and National People’s Power (NPP) MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake were proposed and seconded in parliament on Tuesday morning July 19.

Parliament has called for nominations for the post left vacant by the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country on July 13 following massive protests demanding his resignation.

Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and was backed by Minister Manusha Nanayakkara amid boos from the opposition benches.

Opposition leader Premadasa, who had previously announced that he was contesting, proposed Alahapperuma’s name which was seconded by SLPP chairman and parliamentarian GL Peiris.

NPP MP Vijitha Herath nominated the Dissanayake party leader for the post, seconded by his colleague Harini Amarasuriya.

With Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) of Premadasa, the main opposition, backing Alahapperuma and the NPP only holding three seats in parliament, Alahapperuma’s chances against Wickremesinghe are now improving.

At least 105 SLPP members met with Wickremesinghe and discussed their grievances, in particular regarding new accommodation in place of their homes which were burnt down by angry mobs on 09 May. SLPP secretary general Sagara Kariyawasam said the SLPP would support Wickremesinghe, a statement later contradicted by party chairman Peiris.

Sri Lanka’s parliament has 225 members. More than half a dozen members are overseas and could return today for tomorrow’s vote.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which has around 15 members, said it would stay out of the vote in a bid to push for a consensus candidate. But at least 10 could break ranks, according to reports.

Former SLFP chief chairman Maithripala Sirisena claimed that large sums of money were being offered to buy off legislators.

Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since independence, with a crippling dollar shortage leading to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials.

The country has also seen widespread unrest in recent weeks, with protests escalating and leading to clashes between protesters and security forces.

While opposition activists and lawmakers accuse the government of going too far and violently suppressing peaceful protests, the government says ‘fascist’ elements within the protest movement are deliberately engaging in violence to destabilize the country. (Colombo/Jul19/2022)

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