SRI LANKAN MPs have elected prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s new president, despite his extreme unpopularity with Sri Lankan workers and youth who burnt his house down last week.
He defeated his main rival for the job, Dullus Alahapperuma, with 134 votes to 82 in the parliamentary vote. Sri Lanka’s ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country last week.
He bolted to the Maldives and then Singapore after thousands of protesters stormed his presidential residences and other government buildings, calling for his resignation.
They had also called for the resignation of Wickremesinghe, a close ally of the Rajapaksa political family, who was appointed prime minister in May.
Workers and youth in Sri Lanka have been protesting for months because the country has been bankrupted by the ruling class, leaving them facing acute shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies.
After his election, Wickremesinghe told parliament the nation was ‘in a very difficult situation’ and there were ‘big challenges ahead’. The 73-year-old also called on his political opponents to work with his government for the good of the country.
It’s hoped his election can restore political stability so the country can resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package, which the Sri Lankan masses will have to pay for.
However, Wickremesinghe is a completely discredited six-time prime minister who has been in Sri Lankan politics for 45 years. He is hated by the masses of the uprising – who view him as part of the political elite – and his election is bound to see the escalation of the uprising.
Yesterday, ahead of the results, barricades were set up around the parliament and soldiers lined the perimeter anticipating crowds.
Wickremesinghe extended a national state of emergency this week in a bid to prevent any flare-ups in protests. He has consistently ignored the calls for his resignation, and last week assumed the position of acting president after Rajapaksa fled. His victory yesterday means he will seek to serve out the rest of the presidential term until November 2024.
The president is the head of state, government and the military in Sri Lanka, and he will have to seek to use the military against the revoutionary masses on the streets. The question of the hour is – will the soldiers be prepared to open fire on workers and youth.
Soaring inflation has meant foods, medication and fuel are in short supply, there are rolling blackouts and ordinary people have taken to the streets in anger.
The 73-year-old Wickremesinghe will now seek to serve the remainder of the term of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country and resigned by email last week.
The economic crisis has left Sri Lanka’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. They will now desperately seek to drive Wickremesinghe into exile alongside Rajapaksa.
Leaders of the mass protests said yesterday that they are currently discussing their future strategy following the election of Wickremesinghe and that the revolution will continue.
‘We are currently discussing our strategy and regrouping. We will definitely continue our struggle and our occupation at GotaGoGama until Ranil Wickremesinghe resigns.
‘This is definitely not what we wanted,’ protest leader Melani Gunathilake said.
‘We know very well that Ranil Wickremesinghe isn’t the same as Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is a more cunning person. And recently he has even been trying to suppress the protest by imposing a state of emergency and sending air force helicopters over GotaGoGama.
‘But I don’t think people will be intimidated by these actions anymore,’ Gunathilake said.
‘Sri Lanka deserves a leader who actually cares for its people, not somebody who thinks about his political future.’ Widespread unrest and a continuing uprising is expected, as Wickremesinghe seeks to use the military against the people. The workers of the world must support the Sri Lankan masses and aid them in every way that they are asked.