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Sri Lanka: No Hopes Ahead as Rajapaksa Clique Continues in Power

Sri Lanka’s parliamentarians elected former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President. Ironically Wickremesinghe is the only Member of Parliament from his party the United Nationalist Party (UNP) and that too a nominated one. Yet he has been elected as the President with support of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna [SLPP] the power base of the discredited Rajapaksa’s in the country.

As per the Colombo Page, returning officer Secretary-General of parliament Dhammika Dassanayake announced that 223 members of Parliament voted for the three candidates Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP DullasAlahapperuma and MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake while two MPs abstained from voting.

Ranil Wickremesinghe received 134 votes his closest opponent, Dullas Alahapperuma received 82 votes. The Leader of National People’s Power Anura Kumara Dissanayake received 3 votes. The SLPP has 103 members of parliament while the opposition mix comprises of 122 members of which there are 45 independent members. It is not clear which block in the opposition has supported Ranil Wickremesinghe as the SLPP votes have been split with some members of the Party siding with Dullas Alahapperuma.

Importantly the transition in the parliament of Sri Lanka is an outcome of people’ power and street side protests mainly directed against the Rajapaksa family which has resulted in the deposition of prime minister Mahenda Rajapaksa on May 09 and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing the country two months later July 09. Protests were led by civil society groups under the banner Gota Go Home. Quite clearly some radical elements have also penetrated these protestors who have been mainly behind the violence including burning of private homes of the president and the prime minister see as symbols of corrupt wealth that has been accumulated even as the people have suffered hardships.

A point of interest is the protestors had also sought the resignation of Ranil Wickremesinghe, but he has managed to stay on with supporters of the SLPP who are close to the Rajapaksa’s. CNN reported that as voting was taking place, protesters had gathered at president's office anticipating Wickremesinghe's nomination.

Some chanted, "Ranil go home" in anger when the result was announced.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has asked his opponents Dullas Alahapperuma and Anura Kumara Dissanayake as well as the Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa to join him for discussions to reform the political system and rebuild the country. “We have to create a new strategy to move forward. People are demanding not the old politics. They ask the parliament carry forward the work in a united manner,” he said.

Much will depend on the ability of the government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to provide necessities to the people – rice, fuel, fertilizers and restore the economy.

For this support of key stakeholders such as India, China, United States, European Union, Australia amongst others will be necessary. Will Ranil Wickremesinghe be able to muster the same in real time remains to be seen?

India is already wary of possible accusations of interference in the politics of the country. Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka issued a statement rejecting the “baseless and purely speculative” media reports that India exerted pressure on Sri Lankan political leaders during the vote held in Parliament on 20th to elect the successor president of Sri Lanka. “We have seen baseless and purely speculative media reports about efforts at political level from India to influence political leaders in Sri Lanka regarding elections in the Sri Lankan Parliament to the post of the President of Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said. Yet a section of the public possibly believes that India is supporting the Rajapaksa’s and may have swung the vote in favour of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Whether India pumps in more aid having already provided $ 3.8 Billion in a mix including lines of credit for fuel remains to be seen? This will be crucial for the survival of the Wickremesinghe regime.

With anger in the street against the newly elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe seen as a part of the Rajapaksa clique, if he does not perform quickly, he may have to go the same way as the former first family of Sri Lanka.

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