- Sri Lankan lawmakers elect acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s new president. Protesters’ response was generally muted, with only about 100 people gathered in Colombo. Some vowed to focus their efforts on deposing Wickremsinghe.
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said it is “very hopeful” of concluding programme negotiations as soon as possible.
- The tourism-dependent economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a drop in remittances from Sri Lankans living abroad.
COLOMBO, 20 JULY – On Wednesday, Sri Lankan lawmakers elected acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s new president, hoping that his long experience in government will help pull the country out of a crippling economic and political crisis.
Despite public outrage at the ruling elite following months of severe fuel, food, and medicine shortages, the six-time prime minister received 134 votes in the 225-member parliament. more info
“Our country is facing massive challenges, and we must devise a new strategy to meet the people’s aspirations,” the 73-year-old leader said after his victory. “Everyone must now work together.”
Protesters’ response was generally muted, with only about 100 people gathered on the steps of the presidential secretariat, but some vowed to focus their efforts on deposing Wickremesinghe.
“We’re stunned. “He’s a person who handles things very cleverly,” protester Damitha Abeyrathne said of the leader. “He’ll start controlling us in a new way.” As protesters, we will resume our struggle.”
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Any of the hundreds of thousands who poured into the streets last week to force the ouster of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have wanted Wickremesinghe to go as well, branding him an ally of the Rajapaksa family.
However, Chameera Dedduwage, an organiser of previous protests, said Rajapaksa’s removal was one of the movement’s goals, and protesters would have to be satisfied with achieving it.
“Unlike GR, Ranil is not a populist: he’s known to be a ruthless pragmatist,” Dedduwage said, using Rajapaksa’s initials to refer to him.
ickremesinghe took over as acting president last week, after Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military plane before boarding a commercial flight to Singapore.
Dullas Alahapperuma, a ruling party lawmaker, received only 82 votes in Wednesday’s election. A third candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, received only three votes, according to a parliament official.
Two lawmakers did not show up for the meeting, and four votes were ruled invalid.
Alahapperuma, while more acceptable to protesters and the opposition, has no experience at the helm of a country desperate for an IMF bailout because it has so few dollars to buy imports.
Protesters in Colombo demand the resignation of Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the newly appointed Prime Minister, arrives at a Buddhist temple in Colombo after his inauguration ceremony, amid the country’s economic crisis.
As protesters wait, Sri Lanka’s parliament votes for a new president.
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Ranil Wickremesinghe, newly appointed Prime Minister, arrives at a Buddhist temple after his inauguration ceremony on May 12, 2022, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, amid the country’s economic crisis. Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Before the election, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told the Nikkei newspaper that the IMF was looking forward to working with Sri Lanka’s new leadership.
“Our team will be there as soon as there is a government with whom we can continue our discussions,” she said, adding that she was “very hopeful” of completing programme negotiations as soon as possible, with some good technical groundwork completed.
‘PERSONS DESERVE FUEL AND TRANSPORTATION’
Before the election, Wickremesinghe stated that the economy had already collapsed by the time he joined Rajapaksa’s government as prime minister in May.
Since then, daily power outages have been reduced from five to three hours, and fertiliser has been distributed to farmers affected by an earlier ban on the commodity, he added.
Wickremesinghe had previously run unsuccessfully for president twice, but this time he received enough support from lawmakers despite controlling only one seat as leader of the United National Party.
“This is now an outmoded parliament with a mandate for an ousted president,” opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said.
“You can’t have an anarchical country,” he added. We must adhere to the constitution. As the opposition, we will give our full support” to any economic recovery plan.
The tourism-dependent economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a drop in remittances from Sri Lankans living abroad. The ban on chemical fertilisers had a negative impact on output before it was lifted late last year.
The Rajapaksas’ populist tax cuts in 2019 harmed government finances, while shrinking foreign reserves reduced imports of fuel, food, and medicine.
Petrol is severely rationed. The headline rate of inflation reached 54.6 percent last month, and the central bank has warned that it could reach 70 percent in the coming months.
“People deserve fuel, transportation, and anything else citizens require,” Kasumi Ranasinghe Arachchige, 26, said. “The protest will continue until we see that no one in Sri Lanka is suffering.”
Buwanaka Perera, another protester, stated, “The occupy movement will continue, the struggle will continue.” We will continue protesting until Ranil returns home.”