Six-time Prime Minister and acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected to become the eighth executive President of Sri Lanka after winning a vote in the parliament on the morning of Tuesday, July 20.
Winning 134 out of the 219 valid votes cast in a secret ballot, Wickremesinghe won by a considerable margin against the other two nominees – former SLPP member and MP Dullas Alahapperuma, who won 82 votes, and leftist leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the JVP, who received three votes.
Presidential Election 2022 https://t.co/934dVBf41I
— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) July 20, 2022
A total of 223 votes were cast in the crucial vote that many consider to be decisive for the future of Sri Lanka, a country that is reeling under a severe economic crisis. Two MPs refrained from voting, while four other votes were invalid.
People carry out a satyagraha on the steps of the old Parliament, while watching the voting process of the President by Parliament today, on a wide screen. #lka #SriLanka #GoHomeGota #RanilResign pic.twitter.com/0TpYEuscLU
— Amalini (@Amaliniii) July 20, 2022
As voting took place inside, citizens gathered in front of the old parliament building to witness the voting process.
Shortly after the election results were announced, the Colombo Fort Magistrate issued a court order prohibiting anyone from assembling around a 50 meter radius from the S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake statue at Galle Face. The site has been the epicenter of the Aragalaya movement that forced the President to resign.
Wickremesinghe, as acting President, had introduced another fresh state of emergency through an official gazette on July 18 ahead of the voting on July 20. The emergency is yet to be revoked officially.
In the run-up to the election on Tuesday, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party SLPP, which holds the majority in the 225-member parliament, was reportedly divided in its support to Wickremesinghe, who is a close ally of the Rajapaksa regime. While party general secretary Sagara Kariyawasam recently announced SLPP’s support for Wickremesinghe, chairman G.L. Peiris pledged support for Alahapperuma, a journalist and former MP from the SLPP, before he decided to sit independently following the events in May.
From MP to PM to President- all in a year
A staunch neoliberal, Wickremesinghe was appointed as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister on May 12 by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the middle of an acute political crisis after former PM and Gotabaya’s elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned in the wake of massive anti-government protests.
Prior to being elected as PM, Wickremesinghe was the only MP from his party. He entered parliament through the national list in June 2021. His party – the United National Party – had for the first time failed to secure even a single seat in the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Wickremesinghe contested direct presidential elections twice in 1988 and 2005, but lost both times.
Since May, Wickremesinghe has spearheaded talks with the IMF for a bailout loan to support the island’s plummeting economy.
In the past two months, food and fuel shortages worsened to the extent of a humanitarian crisis. During this period, Wickremesinghe passed the 21st amendment to the constitution in a move to empower the parliament and curb presidential power by annulling an article which had strengthened the powers of the president.
Massive anti-government protests triggered by the shortages and insufficient government action took place earlier this month, resulting in protesters taking over government buildings, including the Prime Minister’s office and private residence. Shortly after, Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the island and later on resigned as President. Wickremesinghe initially said he was willing to resign after these protests but ended up assuming the acting presidency after Rajapaksa quit.
Even before the official declaration of Rajapaksa’s resignation on July 15, Wickremesinghe had announced a nation-wide emergency. In a move criticized by many, Wickremesinghe instituted a committee comprising military commanders of the Tri-forces and the Inspector-General of Police to reinstate “law and order.”
Galle Face protests to continue, protesters claim Wickremesinghe lacks popular mandate
The anti-government protests against Gotabaya have also been demanding Wickremesinghe’s resignation as he is viewed to be an ally of the Rajapaksas. The President-elect’s political legitimacy has been questioned by many since his only seat in the parliament was won by nomination on the national list and not through parliamentary elections.
“As #SriLanka’s protest movement, we had 2 demands: @GotabayaR must step down & @RW_UNP should also resign. Today, the parliament has taken a decision against people’s will. So, the peaceful protests will go on”- Fr. Jeewantha Peiris addressing media at #GotaGoGama protest site. pic.twitter.com/uqn1oIkfT0
— JDS (@JDSLanka) July 20, 2022
And it begins.
Serious concern that state of emergency (SOE) will be used to crackdown on dissent, incl via force. Stability is achieved thru building a strong social contract b/n state & citizen & by gaining public trust. @RW_UNP shld be aware it can’t be achieved thru force. https://t.co/lF7nETde21
— Ambika Satkunanathan (@ambikasat) July 20, 2022
— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) July 19, 2022
Highlighting his frequent resorting to the military and his neglect of people’s long-standing demands, experts have been critical of Wickremesinghe’s leadership. Writing in The Morning, Sri Lankan academic, diplomat, writer and politician Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka stated, “If he is elected by Parliament to be the Executive President, he will be the first ever leader we have had since Independence who has zero mandate from the people. Ranil’s track record, his recent rhetoric about “fascists”, and his setting up of a committee of Armed Forces chiefs and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to take “independent” decisions and measures, already signal the emergence of what is termed in Latin America, a “civilian-military junta” or a “state of national security”.”
Many fear far more dangerous outcomes to emerge from Sri Lanka’s brewing economic and political crises. According to political economists Ahilan Kadirgamar and Devaka Gunawardena, “the appointment of Wickremesinghe as President by the Parliament would lead to a new round of conflict with the protestors. Such polarization would result in even greater instability.”