A three-way contest between Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Dullas Alahapperuma, a rebel leader of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) who is backed by the Opposition, and Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will see Sri Lanka’s Parliament elect a new President Wednesday to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country and resigned after public anger over the country’s worst economic crisis exploded on the streets 10 days ago.
On the eve of the vote, Opposition leader and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) candidate Sajith Premadasa decided to withdraw from the Presidential race and support Alahapperuma.
Premadasa, son of President Ranasinghe Premadasa who was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber in 1993, said his decision was made for the “greater good” of the country.
In a Twitter post, Premadasa said, “For the greater good of my country that I love and the people I cherish I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the position of President. @sjbsrilanka and our alliance and our opposition partners will work hard towards making @DullasOfficialvictorious.”
He also reached out to India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Irrespective of who becomes the President of Sri Lanka tomorrow it is my humble and earnest request to Hon. PM Shri @narendramodi, to all the political parties of India and to the people of India to keep helping mother Lanka and its people to come out of this disaster.”
Alahapperuma, who belongs to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party SLPP and was information minister for mass media, has emerged as the Opposition’s candidate.
Dissanayake belongs to JVP, one of the smaller parties in the Opposition fold. His party has supported the protest movement as well.
Wickremesinghe, who has been Prime Minister six times now, is the ruling SLPP candidate. It has the numbers to pull it off unless Alahapperuma is able to substantially split the party’s votes.
SLPP chairman G L Peiris, former Foreign Minister, said the party will vote for Alahapperuma and the appointment of Sajith Premadasa as Prime Minister.
The nominations were accepted by Parliament Tuesday. Lawmakers will vote through a secret ballot Wednesday morning, and the results are expected by late afternoon.
In the House of 225 seats, 113 seats in favour of a candidate will decide the elections. All eyes are on the split within the ruling SLPP which may tilt the scales in favour of Alahapperuma. But Dissanayake may be the spoiler.
Wickremesinghe will also be looking to split votes in the Opposition camp, especially in the Premadasa-led SJB.
The SLPP youth wing has announced that it will support the decision by the SLPP faction led by Dinesh Gunawardena to elect Wickremesinghe as President.
One interesting aspect to watch out for will be whether former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal, who have been in hiding, also show up in Parliament for voting Wednesday.
At the Aragalaya protest site at Galle Face green, the mood was sombre. Opposed to Wickremesinghe’s candidature, many protesters said if he wins the elections, they will intensify their protests.
“We want change in the system, and don’t want Ranil as President,” said protester Lasantha, a 27-year-old wearing a ‘Go Ranil Go’ hair band.