Three possible candidates are vying to become Sri Lanka’s next President after the incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled this week from the country. After Rajapaksa’s official resignation letter, the Sri Lankan parliament will call upon the legislative body. Next week, its 225 members will put forth their votes for the election of a new president.
A six-time prime minister, the leader of the major opposition party, and a former journalist turned politician from the ruling party have been nominated for the elections. Let’s take a brief look at all three presidential candidates.
Two political sources said that Ranil Wickremesinghe, a six-time elected prime minister, and the current acting President, is among the top aspirants for the job. Even though he has only one seat in the parliament, Wickremesinghe has supporters from different areas. Besides, the ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), with Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, backing him.
The second candidate is the leader of the main opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Sajith Premadasa. In need of bi-partisan support, Premadasa, 55, has around 50 lawmakers in parliament. Studied at the London School of Economics, Premadasa joined politics after the assassination of his father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1993.
He served as Sri Lanka’s deputy health minister and was later appointed minister of housing construction and cultural affairs in 2018.
The third candidate is a 63-year-old former journalist and a senior lawmaker from the SLPP, Dullas Alahapperuma. SLPP lawmaker Charitha Herath said, with 117 votes, the ruling party can field a candidate like Alahapperuma. “It is not easy to get such a person,” Herath said. “Dullas would be a formidable and practical option.”
Entering parliament in 1994, Alahapperuma served as the mass media minister and a cabinet spokesperson. But his resignation came in April when President Rajapaksa dissolved the cabinet after protestors surrounded his private address.
All three candidates seem to have a strong backing. However, gaining the top spot will not be easy in the current chaotic circumstances. Securing a simple majority within the parliament while gaining the confidence of the protesting Sri Lankans is a must for the winning candidate.
The protesting movement known as the ‘Aragalaya’ or ‘Struggle’ in Sinhala led to Rajapaksa’s expulsion from the country. The protests come from the public’s outrage from a long period of an economic meltdown and struggle with endless queues for food, fuel and medicine, among others.