Monday, Oct 03, 2022

Sri Lanka Kicks Off Process To Select New President Amid Political Turmoil

The buzz is that the SLPP will claim the presidency and Sajith Premadasa will be the new Prime Minister. How far this is true will be evident tomorrow.

Sri Lankas acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe AP

It is the economy stupid, is a common enough phrase but political stability is crucial for any government to tackle the economic meltdown that has led to the chaos in Sri Lanka. The official list of candidates for tomorrow’s crucial vote is now out.

Three candidates are in the fray, acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka Podujana Perumuna (SLPP the Rajapaksa’s outfit) Dullas Allhapperuma and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Leader of the opposition Sajith Premadasa who had earlier announced his candidacy has not filed his nominations leading to speculation that a deal has been struck to keep Ranil Wickremasinghe out of office. The buzz is that the SLPP will claim the presidency and Sajith Premadasa will be the new Prime Minister. How far this is true will be evident tomorrow.

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s lawmakers are poised to elect a new President to restore political stability to the island nation that has witnessed 100-days of street protests forcing a reluctant  Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country.

Expectedly acting President Ranil Wickremasinghe is the front runner. But the scion of a powerful political family has lost all credibility with the public who see him to be hand and glove with Gotabaya Rajapaksa and trying to foist himself as president by a backroom deal with the family. The fact that the party he led the  United National Party (UNP) was not been able to win a single seat in Parliament makes him an imposition by the lawmakers and not a genuine representative of the people. If Wickremesinghe makes it, there will be attempts to restart the protests and ensure he steps down.

Ranil Wickremasinghe was Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s choice, after the leader of the opposition Sajith Premadasa turned down the offer, knowing it would be politically suicidal for him to be anointed by the most hated man on the island. Wickremesinghe‘s United National Party was not able to win a single seat in the 2020 parliamentary elections. He was given a seat to represent his party. That is part of the protocol in the Lankan parliament.

On paper, his chances are bright simply because the Sri Lanka Podujana Perumuna (SLPP) the party of the Rajapaksa have the maximum number of lawmakers, a total of 104 in a House of 225. The SLPP general secretary initially announced that the party will back Wickremesinghe. However soon afterwards the SLPP senior leader G.L.Peiris said that no such decision had been taken. With the Rajapaksa clan in political limbo the SLPP is no longer a cohesive party rallying behind the family. While a core group of loyalists remain, many others will vote according to their preference.

One thing going for Ranil is the fact that though the SLPP dislike him, with over 70 MPs having their homes destroyed they want compensation and personal security. They know well that Ranil is capable of extending financial support and extra security for them but the public mood is against him.

Sajith Premadasa, son of slain president Ranasinghe Premadasa,  had parted ways with the United National Party to form his own Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SLB) political outfit. He had contested the presidential elections against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and was roundly defeated. Premadasa’s SLB won 54 seats in the last elections, the second highest number in the House. According to speculation he is aiming to be the next prime minister and will be nominated by Dullas.

Dullas Alahapperuma, a breakaway candidate from Rajapaksa’s SLPP  a former journalist has an excellent reputation and is seen as an honest do-gooder. However, if Sajith Premadasa and Dullas have an arrangement, Ranil Wickremesinghe could easily be defeated.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)  Anura Kumara Dissanayake is also in the fray. JVP once an ultra-Left party headed by  Rohana Wijeweera renounced violence after he was killed and has joined the political mainstream. The JVP was also at the forefront of the protests, so he has wide acceptance among many of the students and ordinary people. However, it is not certain if he has the support of fellow lawmakers.