Sri Lanka: Protesters warn MPs not to vote for Wickremesinghe

Demonstrators want him to 'stop protecting the Rajapaksas'



Photo by Reuters
Photo by Reuters

By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Mon 18 Jul 2022, 11:40 AM

Last updated: Mon 18 Jul 2022, 11:49 AM

Sri Lankan protesters who overthrew the Rajapaksa family “warned” Parliamentarians not to vote for acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe at the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will usher in the 10th executive president of Sri Lanka.

“We have fought for two things – one, the ousting of the Rajapaksas, which has been successful, and two, the ousting of the man who protects the Rajapaksas (Wickremesinghe) – and we won’t stop agitating until that goal is achieved,” Lakmali Maddage, an activist of the Aragalaya or the Struggle movement, that spearheads the protests, told Khaleej Times. “We are now requesting the MP's who have the power to decide who will be the nation’s next president - nicely – not to vote in Ranil.”

Last week, protesters set fire to Wickremesinghe’s private homes, asking him to quit his position as Prime Minister and stop “protecting the corrupt Rajapaksas,” the family Sri Lankans blame for the economic melt-down of the nation.

The movement said they will continue to reach out to the 225 Parliamentarians, particularly the 145 MPs of Rajapaksas’ ruling party who make up the majority of the 225 cabinet.

“We will not resort to violence as we believe in a peaceful struggle, but we warn them that they need to go back to their hometowns after voting in the new president.”

The warning is an ominous one. In May, at least five pro-Rajapaksa Parliamentarians’ houses were set on fire in their hometowns by angry protesters, after supporters of the Rajapaksa family went on a rampage amongst peaceful protesters in Colombo. Amidst the clashes, protesters stormed into then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official residence, forcing him and his brother the Finance Minister, Basil Rajapaksa to quit.

On Friday, Sagara Kariyawasam, the General Secretary of the ruling party announced that they will back Wickremesinghe as president. Although another candidate from the ruling party, Dullas Alahapperuma has also declared his intention to run for presidency, which will split the votes amongst party members, it is expected that majority of the ruling party members will vote Wickremesinghe in.

“They will vote in Wickremesinghe, because they want to be protected. Everyone knows he is cutting deals with them,” said Prashan Liyanage, a 29-year-old protester.

Speculations are rife about the “deals” the six times-prime minister, Wickremesinghe, who was known as Mr. Clean until his alliance with the Rajapaksas, has cut with them.

“As president, Ranil will make sure that Gota (Gotabaya) will be given safe passage back to Sri Lanka and will not be taken held accountable. He will continue to protect the entire family,” a parliamentarian who wished to remain anonymous told Khaleej Times.

Wickremesinghe remains acting president until Wednesday when the Parliament will vote in a new president in a secret ballot.

Security was tightened around the Parliament premises over the weekend, and Wickremesinghe renewed the state of emergency he declared last week, causing concern amongst civilians.

Simmering anger over the nation’s economic meltdown with runaway inflation; acute shortage of food, medicine and fuel; and corruption, reached a boiling point last week when hundreds of thousands of protesters converged in capital Colombo defying curfews and took over state buildings, including the presidential palace, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister’s office.

This resulted in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing the country and handing in his resignation.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary is on the run, after he fled Sri Lankan last Wednesday, and sent in his resignation from Singapore where he went to from the Maldives.

Known as the “Terminator”, Rajapaksa was voted in as president in 2019, and has a list of alleged war crimes and human rights allegations following him. He is also the first executive president to step down in the history of Sri Lanka.

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