sri lanka parties vie for presidents post as protesters reject all contenders - Sri Lanka parties vie for president's post as protesters reject all contenders

BANGALORE – Political parties in Sri Lanka are struggling to find common ground to pick a new president this week to lead the country out of bankruptcy.

Divisions centre mainly on presidential nominees even as Sri Lanka needs urgent fixes to arrest the deepening economic crisis.

The country is slated to hold a parliamentary procedure on Wednesday (July 20) to elect a new president, who will serve out the remainder of fleeing president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term until November 2024.

Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation – sent from Singapore soon after he arrived last Thursday – was accepted by Parliament last Friday. He flew to the Maldives and then to Singapore after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Colombo more than a week ago and occupied his official residence and offices.

The anti-government uprising triggered by food, fuel and medicine shortages has now crossed 100 days. This time, protestors want acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe gone. The six-time prime minister is seen as an ally of Mr Rajapaksa and analysts say his election as president could lead to further unrest.

Mr Wickremesinghe’s unpopularity has soared after he declared a state of emergency late on Sunday (July 17) “in the interests of public security”.

Crowds of protesters that had reduced following Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation swelled again on Monday.

But with ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Party announcing that it would back Mr Wickremesinghe as president, the very leader protesters despise has become the top contender.

Although members of Mr Rajapaksa’s family quit the government one by one as demanded by protestors, SLPP’s majority in Parliament still enables the family to influence the choice of the next president. The party has at least over 100 of 225 seats in Parliament. SLPP general secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said he did not have an exact count of the seats due to recent defections.

Mr Wickremesinghe is not an SLPP member but the leader of its once-rival United National Party. He was appointed as prime minister in May, replacing Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa who had resigned under pressure from protestors.

SLPP general secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said that the party backed Mr Wickremesinghe because its leader Mr Rajapaksa had picked him “out of some trust in his abilities”.

However, an independent faction of the SLPP refuses to back Mr Wickremesinghe, supporting former sports and media minister Dullas Alahapperuma instead. SLPP chairman GL Peiris asked how “an outside candidate’s name” was announced when one of its own members had come forward to contest.

Opposition leaders back Mr Sajith Premadasa, leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the biggest opposition party with around 50 seats in parliament.