Sri Lankan lawmakers vote to elect new president in three-cornered contest

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Colombo: The Sri Lankan Parliament on Wednesday began voting to elect the successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a three-way contest, following a high-voltage political drama which saw the former president fleeing the country and resigning after a popular uprising against his government for mismanaging the economy.

The voting by secret ballot is taking place amidst tight security in the wake of the simmering tensions in the island nation triggered by the unprecedented economic and political crisis.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, dissident ruling party leader Dullas Alahapperuma and leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake were proposed by lawmakers on Tuesday as the three candidates for the presidential election.

Wickremesinghe till Tuesday night maintained a close edge as a number of MPs had pledged their support to him while his rival Alahapperuma had received crucial backing from the Opposition parties as well as a majority of lawmakers from his parent party - Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

A candidate has to cross the magical figure of 113 in the 225-member House to win the election. The new President will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.

So far 150 lawmakers including Presidential candidates - Wickremesinghe and Allahaperuma - have voted. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena was the first to vote in the crucial election. The two senior Rajapaksa brothers - Mahinda and Chamal - were seated in the front row.

Alahapperuma’s name was proposed by the Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa and Member of Parliament G L Peiris seconded it. Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by the Leader of the House and minister Dinesh Gunawardena and MP Manusha Nanayakkara seconded it. Dissanayake's name was proposed by MP Vijitha Herath and MP Harini Amarasuriya seconded it.

Wickremesinghe, 73, is seen as the frontrunner as he has the backing of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). He faces a serious challenge from 63-year-old Alahapperuma, who is backed by the main opposition.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) have decided to vote for Alahapperuma. However, several lawmakers have said they will not follow the party line and instead vote for Wickremesinghe.

This is for the first time in 44 years that Sri Lanka's Parliament will directly 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.

After the election, Parliament will convene again on July 27.