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HomeWorld'Go, Ranil, go': Protesters voice 'disappointment' as Wickremesinghe elected Sri Lanka's President

‘Go, Ranil, go’: Protesters voice ‘disappointment’ as Wickremesinghe elected Sri Lanka’s President

Sri Lankan Parliament elects ex-PM Ranil Wickremesinghe to serve out rest of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's term. He wins 134 out of 225 MPs' votes, with nearest rival at 82.

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Colombo: Chants of “Go, Ranil, go” were heard in Colombo as Sri Lanka’s parliamentarians elected Ranil Wickremesinghe to the country’s highest office, and protesters voiced their anger. 

Wickremesinghe — hitherto the acting President and former prime minister — was elected to serve for the remainder of ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term (until 2024) by MPs in the country’s Parliament Wednesday. The results were out by 1pm in Colombo.

MP Namal Rajapaksa — a former minister and the son of former President and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa — was among the first to congratulate Wickremesinghe, whose perceived closeness to the Rajapaksas had led protesters to demand his resignation as PM, storming his office and attacking his home.   

Protesters who’d watched the voting on a giant screen propped up in front of the Presidential Secretariat in Galle Face were largely disappointed — but also swore to continue with their movement — when word came that Wickremesinghe had secured 134 votes in the presidential election while his nearest rival, MP Dulles Alahapperuma, got 82. The other candidate, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the communist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), received just three votes.

The Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which has more than 100 out of 225 seats in Parliament, was expected to support Wickremesinghe and appears to have largely done so, despite the candidature of Alahapperuma, a rebel candidate from the party. Other parties, including the main opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) had announced their support for Alahapperuma, with SJB leader Sajith Premadasa withdrawing his own candidature to back Alahapperuma. 

Protesters had little chance to agitate near Parliament in response to the results, with security around Colombo fortified many times over; Army personnel and police were seen lining the roads from Parliament to the Presidential Secretariat in Galle Face.

Meanwhile, an order issued by a Colombo court Wednesday may force GotaGo village, the nerve centre of the protest at Galle Face, to disband, as it prohibits anyone from assembling within a 50-metre distance of a statue of former PM S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The tents that make up the “village” have been erected around this statue. Protesters at the site had earlier said that they wouldn’t support Wickremesinghe as President. 

223 out of 225 MPs cast their ballots Wednesday, while two abstained. With four ballots deemed invalid, a total of 219 votes were counted. 

‘Rage and disappointment’

Demonstrators at the Presidential Secretariat at Galle Face — a few hundred metres from the GotaGo village — expressed “rage” and “disappointment” at Wickremesinghe’s victory.

Actor Shanthi Banusha said, “I have no words. We had some hope that MP Alahapperuma would become President. This result is because of ‘deal-making politics’. The protest movement succeeded in removing Gotabaya, but we had more work to do, which we have failed to do for now. But we will continue till we succeed.”

Protesters in Colombo on 20 July after Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected President by Parliament | Regina Mihindukulasuriya | ThePrint
Protesters in Colombo on 20 July after Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected President by Parliament | Regina Mihindukulasuriya | ThePrint

Another frequent visitor to the protest site at Galle Face, actor Damitha Abeyratne, was visibly upset and tearing up. She said, “We are going to start our struggle against this corrupt government. We are all disappointed. We lost — means the whole country lost.”

When ThePrint asked Abeyratne if she expected any violence now, she said, “We don’t know. This struggle is a headache for them [for the govt]. We don’t how they are going to control us. We are expecting anything…We don’t mind dying on behalf of the country.”

Kasumi Ranasinghe, climate activist and mental health advocate, summed up her reaction as  “rage, disappointment, anger”.

The result made civil engineer Nuzly Hameem “disappointed”, but it was also “expected”, he said.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: ‘Close friend’ India vows support to new Lanka President Wickremesinghe, denies ‘interference’


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