Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Wednesday elected as Sri Lanka's new President by Parliament, following a high-voltage political drama which saw his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing the country and resigning after a popular uprising against his government for mismanaging the economy.
The 73-year-old six-time prime minister secured 134 votes in the 225-member House while his nearest rival and dissident ruling party leader Dullas Alahapperuma got 82. Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake secured just three votes.
The new President will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa's term, which ends in November 2024. Earlier, the voting by secret ballot took place amidst tight security in the wake of the simmering tensions in the island nation triggered by the unprecedented economic and political crisis. In the crucial election, 223 lawmakers voted while two MPs abstained. Four votes were rejected while 219 were declared valid.
Wickremesinghe became acting president after his predecessor resigned. Backed by Rajapaksa's party, he is deeply unpopular with the protesters.
Wickremesinghe has not laid out his plans but allies have told local media that several lawmakers from various parties have agreed to back him in parliament so that he can form an all-party administration. The president must ensure supplies of food, fuel and medicine as inflation is seen touching 70 per cent mark.
According to Bloomberg, the economy likely contracted sharply in the second quarter after shrinking in Q1. Power outages, fuel shortages and clearance delays of imported intermediate goods likely hit industrial production and business activity hard. These disruptions are set to persist into the third quarter.
With their bargaining power capped by the high unemployment rate, workers are likely to see their purchasing power eroded by soaring prices, which does not bode well for domestic demand.
Sri Lanka's economic crisis has increased friction with China, it's biggest investor. The ouster of pro-China president will likely cause relations to worsen in the coming years. That makes room for India to strengthen ties with its neighbor via investment, trade and tourism.
This is for the first time in 44 years that Sri Lanka's Parliament directly elected a president. Presidential elections in 1982, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019 had elected them by popular vote.The only previous occasion when the presidency became vacant mid-term was in 1993 when president Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated. DB Wijetunga was unanimously endorsed by Parliament to run the balance of Premadasa's term.