Colombo, Jul 20 (EFE).- Sri Lanka begins Wednesday its process to find a new head of state as its 225 parliamentarians vote in a secret ballot to elect a new president, after former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned last week while in exile.
Among the nominees are acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was earlier appointed prime minister after Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign on May 9 by anti-government protesters.
Rajapaksa’s supporters had attacked protesters at the GotaGoGama protest site near Galle Face, Colombo. The violence turned deadly, and dozens of houses belonging to politicians and their allies were burnt by people.
The voting was scheduled to begin at 10am, while the nation remains under emergency decreed two days ago by interim President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
United National Party leader Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)’s parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena and seconded by MP Manusha Nanayakkara of the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).
With a chunk of the SLPP, also former president Rajapaksa’s party, supporting Wickremesinghe, his votes are cutting into those of SLPP candidate Dullas Alahapperuma.
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa nominated Alahapperuma, while SLPP parliamentarian G.L. Peiris seconded it.
National People’s Power (NPP) representative Vijitha Herath nominated party leader Anura Dissanayake, seconded by MP Harini Amarasuriya of the same party.
“Indications are that the vote will be evenly divided between the two leading contenders,” political analyst Dr. Aruna Kulatunga said.
He said Wickremesinghe is betting on a “bedrock” vote of 72 members of parliament whose homes and property were looted and burnt by protesters during the counter-protest unleashed by SLPP members on May 9.
He added that they will not be voting with Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who from the outset indicated his support for the “Aragalaya” or people’s struggle that has been going on for months.
“The endorsement by the Tamil National alliance of Alahapperuma and Premadasa at the last moment has boosted the duo’s chances, while Wickremesinghe is expecting at least half of quasi-independent group in parliament Sri Lanka Freedom Party to vote for him,” Dr. Kulatunga told EFE.
Protesters at the GotaGoGama site have now launched a protest against Wickremesinghe whom they have lost faith in since he took up the prime minister’s post under the unpopular former president.
The protesters were seen wearing headbands saying “RanilGoHome” and even burnt an effigy of Wickremesinghe in front of the Presidential Secretariat which they are currently occupying.
Wickremesinghe’s private house was also burnt by a group on July 9. Investigations into the incident are underway.
The day is crucial for the island nation as it seeks to ensure political stability in order to resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and other countries to bail it out of the ongoing financial crisis.
The country is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from the British Empire in 1948, with an acute shortage of essential supplies, power and fuel over the last few months, caused partly by government mismanagement and the impact of the pandemic, among other things. EFE