Sri Lankan MPs risk new unrest by electing unpopular Prime Minister as president
Sri Lankan MPs on Wednesday elected unpopular six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s new president, risking further protests that could complicate emergency relief talks with the IMF.
Wickremesinghe won 134 votes in the 225-seat parliament, beating rebel ruling party MP Dullas Alahapperuma, who got 82 votes, and a candidate from a small left-wing party by three.
Wickremesinghe, who is already acting president, sought to strike a conciliatory tone in a speech after his victory, calling on Alahapperuma and other lawmakers to join him in “starting a meeting” new journey”. However, he did not specify whether he wanted them to join his government.
“The country is in a very bad state and we have huge challenges, so I want everyone’s support. Youth are calling for change,” Wickremesinghe said in parliament.
In an interview with the Financial Times on polling day morning, Central Bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe made it clear that the new president would have to deal with tough political challenges and called for a bipartisan approach.
“I expect a stable government that can carry out tough economic reforms,” Weerasinghe said. These include raising taxes, eliminating wasteful spending, restructuring state-owned enterprises and raising interest rates to curb rising inflation, the governor said.
“Everyone should support the government to get the country through the difficult period and there will be a recovery after that,” Weerasinghe said. “That’s why people are asking why there isn’t an all-party consensus government and a bipartisan approach to implementing reforms.”
After the defeat in the vote, Alahapperuma said he wanted the new government to “pay attention to the pain of the public crying in the streets”. But he did not say whether he supported Wickremesinghe’s government.
Sri Lanka has been rocked by months-long protests over soaring prices and fuel shortages, which led to the ousting of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the South Asian island nation of 22 million people. last week.
Sri Lanka owes more than $50 billion abroad, with the largest share going to private bondholders, followed by multilateral lenders and countries including Japan, China and India.
Wickremesinghe must now find a way to regain public trust while pushing through the reforms needed to secure the IMF bailout and debt relief.
But the new president has been turned away by protesters, who accuse him of lacking legitimacy and say he protected Rajapaksa during his previous prime ministership from 2015 to 2019 from corruption allegations.
Earlier this month, protesters ransacked Wickremesinghe’s office and set fire to his private home. Protest organizers on Wednesday called for new rallies in front of the president’s office.
“I cannot think of any examples from his long political career in which he has directly done anything,” said Dinesha Samararatne, a law scholar based in Colombo. specifically to develop the economy or meet the democratic aspirations of the people. new president.
“This crisis requires the servant leadership of our people, not the performance of one person,” she said.