ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s upcoming election in parliament for an interim president has effectively become a two-horse race with two strong contenders emerging following the last minute dropout of  opposition leader Sajith Premadasa.

The candidatures of Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuan (SLPP) MP Dullas Alahapperuma and National People’s Power (NPP) MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake were proposed and seconded in parliament Tuesday July 19 morning.

Parliament called nominations for the vacancy left by the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country on July 13 following massive protests demanding his resignation.

Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and was backed by Minister Manusha Nanayakkara amid some hooting from the opposition benches.

Opposition leader Premadasa, who had previously announced that he was contesting, proposed Alahapperuma’s name which was seconded by SLPP Chairman and parliamentarian G L Peiris.

NPP MP Vijitha Herath proposed the name of party leader Dissanayake for the position, seconded by his colleague Harini Amarasuriya.

With Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the main opposition, backing Alahapperuma and the NPP only holing three seats in parliament, Alahapperuma’s chances against Wickremesinghe are now looking better.

At least 105 SLPP members have met Wickremesinghe and discussed their grievances, particularly regarding new housing in place of their homes that were burnt by angry mobs on May 09. SLPP general secretary Sagara Kariyawasam has said the SLPP will back Wickremesinghe, a statement later contradicted by party chair Peiris.

Sri Lanka’s parliament has 225 members. Over half a dozen members are abroad and may return today for the vote tomorrow.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which has around 15 members, has said they will stay out of the vote in a bid to push for a consensus candidate. But at least 10 may break ranks, reports said.

SLFP chief ex-President Maithripala Sirisena has claimed that large sums of money was being offered to buy legislators.

Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since Independence, with a crippling dollar shortage resulting in long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials.

The country has also seen much unrest in recent weeks, with protests intensifying and leading to confrontations between protestors and security forces.

While activists and opposition lawmakers accuse the government of overreach and violent suppression of peaceful protest, the government claims that “fascist” elements within the protest movement are deliberately engaging in violence seeking to destabilise the country. (Colombo/Jul19/2022)