Sri Lanka’s parliament will choose among three presidential candidates on Wednesday, hoping the new leader can pull the island out of the worst economic and political crisis since independence in 1948.
But the victory of acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, one of the main contenders but opposed by many ordinary Sri Lankans, could lead to more demonstrations by people angry at the ruling elite after months of severe shortages of fuel, food and medicine.
The ruling party MP, Dulas Alahabruma, a former journalist, is more acceptable to protesters and the opposition, but has no high-level governance experience in a country where there are hardly any dollars for imports and desperately needs an IMF bailout.
The third candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, leader of the left-wing Janatha Vimukti Peramuna party, has only three seats in Parliament and has no realistic chance of winning.
Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, became acting president last week after then-incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore when protesters seized his official residence and office, wandering the hallways, using his gym and swimming in his private pool. with it.
Protesters also burned Wickremesinghe’s private home and stormed his office, but failed to overthrow him. Wickremesinghe said this week that by the time he joined the current government as prime minister in May, the economy had already collapsed.
Sri Lankans blamed the Rajapaksas – seven of the family who were in the government until April – for the collapse. Their decisions to cut taxes and ban chemical fertilizers, which destroyed crops, wiped out a heavily indebted economy that was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was not immediately clear how much support the 73-year-old Wickremesinghe, who is seen as an ally of the 63-year-old Rajapaksa and Alahabiroma clans in the 225-seat parliament, has.
Wickremesinghe supports a section of the ruling party that won a total of 145 seats as of the last parliamentary elections in 2020. Alahapperuma has the support of the other section in addition to the main opposition party which won 54 seats in the last round.
The latest numbers are unclear because some lawmakers have become independent.
“Earlier it was Ranil Wickremesinghe, but now the outcome is more uncertain,” said political scientist Jayadeva Oyangoda.
The balance of parliamentary power has moved away from him. The outcome depends on the extent to which the Rajapaks… control the members of their party.”
Sri Lanka’s parliament in 1993 unanimously chose DB Wijitunga to end the term of assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa. This time around, three candidates are vying to complete Rajapaksa’s term of office, set to expire in 2024.
“It will be considered a new experience in the parliamentary history of this country,” said a statement issued by the Parliament’s Communications Head, explaining the procedure.
The candidate who obtains more than one third of the valid votes shall be declared elected. If no candidate reaches the mark, the candidate with the fewest votes will be disqualified from the competition and lawmakers’ preferences are taken into account to ultimately reach the winner.
Whatever the process, the protesters are clear that they want Wickremesinghe gone. For his part, Wickremesinghe imposed a state of emergency on Monday, giving him more powers to crack down if he felt the need.
“We are protesting again, Ranil. He is a corrupt man,” said Dominda Nagamwa, who organized protests in Colombo after the nominations were finalized.
“If Ranil (to power), we will not have stability.”