Sri Lanka presidency a close competition after the front runner retires |  Election news

Sri Lanka presidency a close competition after the front runner retires | Election news

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Three candidates are in the race to become the next Sri Lankan president after former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and withdrew last week due to the island’s worst economic crisis ever.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe will face opposition-backed candidate Dullas Alahapperuma and Marxist party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in a vote to be held on Wednesday, parliament announced during a brief session on Tuesday.

Sajith Premadasa, who was previously supported by the opposition as their candidate and was probably a front-runner, has withdrawn from the race.

Tight run

Premadasa’s decision to withdraw from the race has made the choice to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa a close competition.

The parliamentary session on Tuesday was held under strict security, although the protesters had announced that they would not disrupt the meetings to elect the next president.

Alahapperuma is a former education minister and dissident parliamentarian from the ruling Sri Lankan Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), controlled by the powerful but now unpopular Rajapaksa clan.

Alahapperuma’s name was issued by GL Peiris, the SLPP leader, indicating a rift in the ruling coalition as many SLPP legislators are also believed to support Wickremesinghe.

SLPP legislator Chandima Weerakkody told Al Jazeera that his group of six MPs would vote for Alahapperuma.

Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by the ruling party leader in parliament, Dinesh Gunawardena, who is likely to become prime minister if the incumbent wins the presidency.

Left-wing leader Dissanayake of the National Peoples’ Power Party is the third candidate. Since the party has only three members in parliament, he is unlikely to be a challenger.

Analysts are of the opinion that Wickremesinghe is ahead in the race as a majority of the legislators from the ruling SLPP support him.

Protest leaders had called on the opposition to field a united candidate to defeat Wickremesinghe, whose proximity to Rajapaksas angered them.

The 76-year-old veteran leader stood his ground after becoming prime minister in May and refused to resign, as demanded by protesters.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is struggling with severe shortages of fuel and other necessities.

The economy has collapsed and foreign exchange reserves have been depleted, forcing it to hold rescue talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Sri Lanka
Protesters outside Wickremesinghe’s office demanding his resignation [File: Sebastian Castelier/Al Jazeera]

The opposition demands a majority

Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, a lawmaker from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the largest Tamil political party with a decisive group of 10 MPs in Sri Lanka’s parliament – told Al Jazeera that the party’s lawmakers will meet later Tuesday to discuss which candidate to run for office. support.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which has 15 members of parliament in the ruling party, has announced that it will abstain.

Every candidate who gets 113 votes in the 225-member parliament wins the presidency.

But since there is no unanimity in any political party in Sri Lanka right now, it is not clear how many MPs will stick to party decisions when casting their secret ballot on Wednesday.

Former Prime Minister Rajitha Senaratne, a senior member of the Sami Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party led by Premadasa, told Al Jazeera: “We have already secured more than 113 votes.”

The senators also claimed that the SLFP could reverse its decision to abstain. He said at least 41 MPs from the ruling SLPP would support Alahapperuma’s candidacy.

Sri Lanka crisis
Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on the right, greets Wickremesinghe [File: Sri Lankan President’s Office via AP]

Wickremesinghe has promised to re-examine the attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019 and to reintroduce the 19th amendment to the constitution, which reduces the extensive powers that the president has.

According to reliable sources, many former ministers and members of the Rajapaksa family are campaigning for his candidacy.

Speaking to Al Jazeera before the presidential candidates were announced, former Minister Dr Nalaka Godahewa said he was “confused” as to who represents the SLPP.

“Who is the Sri Lanka Podujana Party? I am a Member of Parliament from the Sri Lanka Podujana Party, but no one has asked me who I support. How can they announce the party’s position without consulting their own MPs? “I am very confused,” he told Al Jazeera.

Journalist Sunil Jayasekara told Al Jazeera that no parties in the current parliament are currently united.

“It applies to all parties in this Parliament, except the United National Party simply because it has only one Member of Parliament – Ranil Wickremesinghe,” said Jayasekara, a former media official in the presidential secretariat.

“Therefore, during this election, MPs are divided into two categories: their political loyalty and certain privileges they are supposed to be offered.”

Meanwhile, protesters are expected to march from Colombo Fort to the GotaGoGama protest camp facing the sea later on Tuesday, urging Wickremesinghe to resign immediately as acting president.

“Go Ranil before we chase you away,” said a banner released by the protesters.

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