Sri Lanka Crisis: Sri Lanka is all set to elect its next president on July 20 via a secret vote by MPs after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s handed his resignation. This will be the first time in the history of the presidency since 1978 that the Parliament will vote to elect a president. The country held presidential elections in 1982, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019.
Before this, the only time when Sri Lanka’s presidency became vacant mid-term was in 1993 after the assassination of then-president Ranasinghe Premadasa. DB Wijetunga was unanimously endorsed by Parliament to run the balance of Premadasa’s term. He still has wider acceptance as the one with the capacity to steer the island through turbulence.
Here is the list of potential candidates
As the date for the presidential election draws nearer let us take a closer look at the candidates who are most likely to run for the post.
The front runner for the position of president in next week’s election would be Ranil Wickremesinghe. He became the prime minister in May after taking control of the country amid the worst economic crisis.
Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) was routed in the 2020 parliamentary election. During his first election, he failed to win a seat in 1977. Some may hate him for his pro-Western policies and ways but he still enjoys acceptance as a thinker and strategist whose vision is futuristic.
Without parliamentary numbers of his own, Wickremesinghe would be entirely dependent on the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) member vote. Not a foregone conclusion of their support as the SLPP stays ideologically opposed to him.
The 55-year-old Sajith Premadasa is the next main contender for the president’s post. His newly formed SJB ousted the grand old party of Wickremesinghe from all its bastions to emerge as the main opposition in 2020.
Ironically, it was Premadasa’s failure to step in to fill the power vacuum in mid-May that made way for Wickremesinghe to become Prime Minister from nowhere.
He only stands an outside chance as most ruling SLPP members are unlikely to back him. Unlike Wickremesinghe though he starts the race with 50 votes minimum.
An ex-Cabinet Minister and former newspaper columnist is being seen as a left-leaning political ideologue. He has held ministerial positions since 2005 and enjoys the reputation of having a clean public life. His task too would be uphill given his position as a breakaway member.
A surprising name on the list is that of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. The 71-year-old, Army commander won the military conflict with the LTTE who fought the Army in its bid to set up a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east regions. Fonseka enjoys support among the Sinhala Buddhist majority.
He comes out as the only politician who was not opposed by the wider group of protesters who engineered Rajapaksa’s downfall. He would however only come into the race if his leader Premadasa opted out of the contest.
Sri Lanka faces acute economic crisis
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials.
The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.
(With inputs from PTI)