COLOMBO: Six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected as crisis-wracked Sri Lanka’s new president in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday, with the backing of the disgraced former leader’s SLPP party.

Official results gave the veteran politician 134 votes, an absolute majority in the 225-member parliament, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned in the wake of protesters overrunning his palace.

Wickremesinghe’s main opponent in the vote was SLPP dissident and former education minister Alahapperuma, 63, a former journalist who was supported by the opposition and received 82 votes.

The third candidate, leftist Anura Dissanayake, 53, was embarrassed when the final tally showed that the pile of rejected votes was one more than the three he polled.

‘Our divisions are now over’, Wickremesinghe says in brief acceptance speech before parliament

But 72-year-old Zarook, a retired seaman who gave only one name and lives in Slave Island, an impoverished area of the capital, was indifferent to the result.

“If Ranil comes, if another man comes, we have to do our daily jobs. So we don’t care,” he said. “Our divisions are now over,” Wickremesinghe said in a brief acceptance speech in parliament, urging his defeated rivals “to join me and work together to bring the country out of the crisis we are facing”.

Wickremesinghe takes charge of a bankrupt nation that is in bailout talks with the IMF, with its 22 million people enduring severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine. But he was backed by the Rajapaksas’ SLPP party — still the largest in parliament — and is despised as a proxy for the former leader by the protesters who forced him from his palace after months of demonstrations over the unprecedented economic crisis.

They have also been demanding the departure of Wickremesinghe, who has pledged to crack down hard if protesters take to the streets.

Hundreds of heavily armed troops and police stood guard outside the parliament, but there were no signs of demonstrators.

Outside the presidential secretariat, where protesters camped for months to demand Rajapaksa step down, actress Damitha Abeyrathne, 45, said: “We lost. The whole country lost.” The struggle would continue, she said.

“The politicians are fighting for their power. They are not fighting for the people. They have no feeling for people who are suffering.”

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2022

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