Sri Lanka: List of contenders for presidency grow as elections near

Parliament will vote in a new president via secret ballot on July 20



By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Sat 16 Jul 2022, 5:28 PM

While Sri Lanka’s Parliament is expected to vote on a new president next week, the list of contenders vying for the position in the crisis-hit country keeps growing.

On Saturday, just a day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quit after fleeing the island, at least five parliamentarians put their names forward to be the tenth executive president of the nation.

According to the Sri Lankan constitution, the Parliament will vote in a secret ballot to usher in the next president, until elections are held in three to six months’ time.

Although the next president will remain in power only until 2024, after the resignation of Rajapaksa mid-term, they will have a rocky road ahead as the debt-ridden nation is on the brink of collapse. More contenders are expected to join the fray by Tuesday when the Parliament reads out nominations.

Acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe is the forerunner as the ruling party, which holds 145 of the 225 seats in Parliament, announced they will back him on Friday.

However, 72-year-old Wickremesinghe, who was prime minister until Rajapaksa resigned, is not a popular figure amongst Sri Lankans who accuse him of “protecting” the corrupt Rajapaksa family.

Last week, protesters calling Wickremesinghe to quit set fire to his private residence, stormed in and took over his office.

On Friday, a former media minister from the ruling party, Dullas Alahapperuma, announced his intention to contest, which might split support for Wickremesinghe.

Leader of the opposition party Sajith Premadasa, who lost to Rajapaksa in the 2019 presidential elections, has also decided to enter the race. Although his party holds 54 of the Parliamentary seats, the masses do not see Premadasa, the son of the popular former slain president Ranasinghe Premadasa, as a capable leader.

On Friday, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, the arch enemy of the Rajapaksas, said he was “ready to accept the presidency if majority Parliament votes me in,” making him another possible candidate.

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Also on Friday, the leader of Sri Lanka’s largest leftist party, Anura Kumara Dissanayake announced his candidacy for the post.

Many behind-the-door deals are expected to be struck before Wednesday, when MP’s will vote in a new president. Sri Lanka’s turbulent political past has witnessed allegations of bribes offered and accepted in exchange for votes.

During a constitutional crisis in October 2018, some MPs said they had been offered $3.5 million in cash and apartments abroad for their support.


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