Majority of Sri Lanka's ruling party in favour of Alahapperuma as President, Premadasa as PM: Report

SLPP Chairman Peiris said that the majority of his party was in favour of appointing Alahapperuma as the President, underlining that the people's voice be highlighted in Parliament.
Dullas Alahapperuma, a candidate for the presidential race, in Sri Lanka. (Photo | AP)
Dullas Alahapperuma, a candidate for the presidential race, in Sri Lanka. (Photo | AP)

COLOMBO: A majority of members of Sri Lanka's ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party was in favour of nominating Dullas Alahapperuma, a leader of its breakaway faction, for the post of the President and principal Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa as the Prime Minister, Chairman of the SLPP, G L Peiris said on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's presidential election.

Acting Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and two others were proposed by lawmakers on Tuesday as the three candidates for the July 20 presidential election to pick the successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa after he resigned following a popular uprising against his government for mismanaging the economy.

Wickremesinghe, 73, will face off against Alahapperuma, a 63-year-old staunch Sinhala Buddhist nationalist and a key member from the breakaway group of the SLPP and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, 53, it was officially announced in Parliament.

SLPP Chairman Peiris said that the majority of his party was in favour of appointing Alahapperuma as the President, underlining that the people's voice be highlighted in Parliament, according to news portal News

Peiris added that the SLPP lawmakers have agreed to appoint Opposition Leader Premadasa, the 55-year-old leader of Sri Lanka's principal opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) as the Prime Minister.

Incidentally, Premadasa on Tuesday had withdrawn from the presidential race to support Alahapperuma's nomination.

Peiris said both parties must come together and govern the country and implement a programme to realise the aspirations of the citizens, the report said.

Wednesday's vote would also be a rare occasion when the House Speaker will vote.

Never in the history of the presidency since 1978, Parliament had voted to elect 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.

The new president will serve the remaining tenure of Rajapaksa till November 2024.

acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has distanced himself from the disgraced Rajapaksa government, saying he was not in the "same administration" and was appointed to "handle the economy" of the bankrupt country.

Wickremesinghe, 73, on Tuesday was among three candidates proposed by lawmakers for Wednesday's presidential election to pick Rajapaksa's successor.

The 225-member Parliament will elect the next president who will complete the remaining tenure of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned last week.

There's growing discontent brewing amongst the public over Wickremesinghe's presidential nomination, who many consider being “more of the same” since he was part of the previous Rajapaksa administration.

“I'm not the same, people know that…I came here to handle the economy,” Wickremesinghe told CNN in an interview on Monday, as he sought to distance himself from Rajapaksa, the person under whom he had worked for the past two months to rescue the crisis-hit Sri Lankan economy.

Wickremesinghe said the erstwhile Rajapaksa regime was “covering up facts” about the country's crippling financial crisis, and assured the island nation's beleaguered economy would stabilise by the end of next year.

He was sworn-in as the acting President on Friday after Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives and then to Singapore from where he resigned in the face of public revolt against his government's mishandling of the country's economy.

“The previous government was lying…covering up facts about the fact that Sri Lanka was bankrupt and we need to go to the IMF (for a bailout package),” Wickremesinghe said during the interview.

In March 2022, Sri Lanka had to pay USD 7 billion in debts, when it had a little over USD 1 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

On April 12, the island nation defaulted on loan repayments and sought to restructure its debt.

Worried by the International Monetary Fund's stringent conditions, the Rajapaksa administration continued to defer on appealing to the international lender for a bailout package, surviving on the lifeline of close to USD 4 billion handed out by India.

The IMF, which has been in talks with the previous Rajapaksa government for a possible USD 3 billion bailout package, said it was monitoring events in Sri Lanka closely.

In the interview, Wickremesinghe said “he would like to tell the people that he knew what they are suffering,” and exuded confidence that the cash-strapped economy would begin to stabilise by the end of next year.

"We have gone back. We have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We don't need five years or 10 years. By the end of next year let's start stabilising, and certainly by 2024 let's have a functioning economy which will start growing,"” he said.

Petrol has been severely rationed and long, serpentine queues were a common sight in front of filling stations leading to frequent clashes.

The government has asked people to work from home and closed schools in an effort to conserve fuel.

Headline inflation in the country of 22 million hit 54.6 per cent last month, with the country's central bank warning that it could surge to 70 per cent in the near future.

Wickremesinghe said he had spoken to Rajapaksa since he fled to the Maldives, and then travelled to Singapore, but denied having knowledge about the former leader's current whereabouts.

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