Colombo, July 21 (newsin.asia): Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe won the Sri Lankan Presidential election with a thumping majority against Dullas Alapahpperuna and Anura Kumara Dissanayake. In the election held on Wednesday in the Sri Lankan parliament, with its 225 members as the voters, Wickremesinghe got 134 of the 219 valid votes, Alahapperuma got 82 and Dissanayake got three.
Voting was by secret ballot, which allowed members to vote freely.
The post of President had been vacant since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned on June 14, having falling from grace. Pressured by a violent agitation on May 9 and July 9, Gotabaya fled the country to Singapore via Maldives and resigned from Singapore by email on July 14.
As per the constitution, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed office as Interim President and then as Acting President after Gotabaya resigned. Again, as per the constitution, parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena asked parliament to elect a President from among its members. Wickremesinghe will be Sri Lankan President till November 2024 when Gotabaya’s term would have ended in the normal course.
Wickremesinghe was supported by the single largest party in parliament, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), an outfit of the Rajapaksa clan. The combined opposition led by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) withdrew from the contest at the last moment and pledged support to Dullas Alahapperuma, a recent SLPP rebel who was expected to split the SLPP.
But Alahapperuma failed to split the SLPP, even though he was backed by the “chairman” of the party G.L.Peiris. The SLPP had 145 members out of a total House membership of 225. Out of this, a sizeable number would have voted for the party candidate Wickremesinghe as without those votes, Wickremesinghe would not have got 134. This demolishes the pre-poll propaganda that SLPP MPs would desert the party because they feared the wrath of public agitators who had burnt many SLPP MPs’ houses on May 9 and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house on July 9.
The agitators who drove Gotabaya Rajapaksa out had threatened to relaunch the agitation (Aragalaya in Sinhalese) if a candidate of the Rajapaksa party won the election. But no agitation took place when Wickremesinghe won. On July 19, trade unions had called for a general strike to prevent nominations being filed. But the call was ignored and all public services functioned.
The extremists in the Aragalaya (Wickremesinghe called them fascists) were demanding the resignation of all 225 MPs and a general election to elect a government which would follow their dictates.
The lack of response to the call for agitation was partly due to the fact that the Chief of Defense Staff Gen.Shavendra Silva had warned that disruptors and violent elements would have to bear the responsibility for their deeds. The peaceful supporters of the Aragalaya, who were the majority, stayed away, isolating the violent elements led by the ultra-leftist Frontline Socialist Party (FSP).
If there was violence on May 9 and July 9, it was mainly because the State machinery had collapsed. The then Head of State and Government Gotabaya Rajapaksa had lost his marbles and failed to activate the law and order machinery. In the absence of orders, the men in uniform were mere spectators, for the most part.
Opposition Took Cues from Agitators
The opposition candidates, Alahapperuma and Dissanayake, on the other hand, had promised the “Aragalaya” activists that they would go by their agenda, even though the more vocal section had put forth radical left and anti-IMF demands which cannot be implemented by any government.
On Tuesday, it was reported that many members of the opposition had begun to feel that given the dire economic situation in Sri Lanka, the country needed a stable government under a firm leader who would be in a position to calmly negotiate with the IMF and the international community for emergency forex injection and debt restructuring.
The domestic supply situation had also improved in the past few days with ships with fuel and cooking gas arriving and with the streamlining of the distribution system. As Acting President, Wickremesinghe had imposed a State of Emergency to keep supplies flowing. That worked, giving confidence to a number of MPs who wanted a government which would work with single-minded devolution and also see that its writ ran in the land.
After being elected, Wickremesinghe appealed to the opposition to join him in putting the economy back on track. All divisions should cease and all should work together to pull Sri Lanka out of the woods, he said. As President and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, Wickremesinghe also inspected troops on Wednesday. He would be sworn-in on Thursday in parliament, an institution to which he has been passionately devoted for decades. His bible is said to be May’s parliamentary practice.
Independently, the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr.Nandalal Weerasinghe said that an agreement with the IMF is near. Such an agreement should help Sri Lanka negotiate with lenders for re-scheduling loan repayments. The Indian High Commissioner has also assured that India will continue to help Sri Lanka, especially by increasing investments.