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Fresh fears of Sri Lanka unrest as former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is made president

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Anti-government protesters show their displeasure following the announcement of the new Sri Lankan president. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

Anti-government protesters show their displeasure following the announcement of the new Sri Lankan president. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

Anti-government protesters show their displeasure following the announcement of the new Sri Lankan president. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

Sri Lankan acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe was selected yesterday by parliament to be the country’s new leader, after widespread protests had ousted the unpopular Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The elevation of Mr Wickremesinghe is likely to spark further backlash from Sri Lankans, many of whom see him as an ally of the Rajapaksa government that brought the nation to an economic crisis.

Mr Wickremesinghe was comfortably elected with 134 votes in the 225-member parliament. He was backed by Mr Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka People’s Front party and was appointed prime minister in May after Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned from that position.

For Sri Lankans hankering for political change, such a clearly status-quo outcome came as a disappointment.

The protesters announced their agitation will continue, a move that risks more unrest as Mr Wickremesinghe has signalled his willingness to use force to maintain order.

“We won’t give up,” protester Rajeevkanth Rajkumar said at the site of the months-long demonstrations. Mr Wickremesinghe, he said, came “to save the Rajapaksas”.

Mr Wickremesinghe hails from a prominent political family and has served as prime minister of Sri Lanka six times since the 1990s.

The new president tried to strike a conciliatory note after his victory, telling lawmakers the people were asking for a new political culture. “I want to start work from tomorrow with you. Let’s all join together,” he said.

The wish of the people was to form an all-party government without Ranil Wickremesinghe

His opponent, Dullas Alahapperuma, said the country needed “healing”. “I hope the president and the new government will hear the cries of the people who are suffering,” he said.

Many opposition leaders said the current parliament no longer reflected the people’s sentiments.

“The wish of the people was to form an all-party government without Ranil Wickremesinghe,” Rauff Hakeem, an opposition leader, said. “There will be continuous unrest outside on the streets.”

Yesterday security was beefed up around parliament in anticipation of new protests.

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In recent weeks, demonstrators stormed and occupied the homes and offices of the president and the prime minister demanding their resignations.

The protesters later withdrew from many of the buildings but have continued to camp at the presidential office.

Few believe Mr Wickremesinghe will reduce the presidency’s expansive powers – a major demand of the protesters – as the system was created by his uncle, Jayewardene.

(© Washington Post)

© Washington Post


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