The Sri Lankan parliament chose Ranil Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, as the country’s new president on Wednesday, following a high-voltage political drama that saw his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fleeing the country and resigning after a popular uprising against his government for mismanaging the economy.
The 73-year-old six-time prime minister secured 134 votes in the 225-member House while his nearest rival and dissident ruling party leader Dullas Alahapperuma got 82. Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake secured just three votes.
The new president will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.
Earlier, the voting by secret ballot took place amidst tight security in the wake of the simmering tensions in the island nation triggered by the unprecedented economic and political crisis. In the crucial election, 223 lawmakers voted while two MPs abstained. Four votes were rejected while 219 were declared valid.
This is for the first time in 44 years that Sri Lanka’s parliament has directly elect a president.
In 1982, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019 presidents were elected by popular vote.
The only previous occasion when the presidency became vacant mid-term was in 1993, when Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated. DB Wijetunga was unanimously endorsed by parliament to run the balance of Premadasa’s term.