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Sri Lanka political parties split ahead of crucial presidential vote | EconomyNext – EconomyNext

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s political parties are divided on who should be the next president at the parliament vote scheduled for July 20, political analysts say as the island grapples deep- economic crisis.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa struck a last-minute deal with former Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma for the prime ministerial post and withdrew from the presidential fray. Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is not happy about the leader’s move, two party sources said.

Political analysts have predicted Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe to be the forerunner in the presidential fray when both Premadasa and Alahapperuma were in the race. But with the latest, many parties are divided to choose between the two main candidates – Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma.

It is widely known that the six-time Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who is the acting president now, has the capability to drift Sri Lanka out of the current economic crisis.

The 73-year-old, most experienced leader of the centre-right United National Party has proven his international connections in ensuring cooking gas and fertilizer, which were on short supply before he became the prime minister.

He is legally eligible to become the president, but morally and ethically his becoming president is questionable. Wickremesinghe, who is always seen as a loser because of his stubborn policies, himself lost the parliamentary elections for the first time in 2020 and his party could not win any seats in the vote.

Solo Bonus Seat 

However, he entered the parliament, using a bonus seat his party won. So many people and lawmakers call him a leader without a mandate because he entered the parliament without people’s mandate.

However, single-seat Wickremesinghe has already been appointed as the prime minister by former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa and now he is the acting president in line with the constitution.

For Wickremesinghe, May 9 violence is the key to his possible victory. The violent clash after former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters brutally attacked unarmed and peaceful protesters left properties of at least 72 former ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmakers damaged or destroyed.

Sources in the SLPP say most of these 72 MPs are likely to vote for Wickremesinghe purely because of the security concerns for their life.

However, Premadasa’s move has somewhat neutralized that, analysts say.

“MPs are now ganging up against Ranil (Wickremesinghe) mainly to satisfy the sentiments of the protesters,” Kusal Perera, a political analyst told Economy Next.

“But the aragalaya people have already divided and if Dullas (Alahapperuma) is trying to cater to their sentiment, then forfeiting the responsibility of driving the country out of the crisis.”

Perera said the SLPP lawmakers’ security concerns will play a vital role in the vote.

Other analysts said Wickremesinghe has already taken action to safeguard all the MPs from the possible threats of protesters and that is likely to win him his vote.

However, all the political parties are divided on the vote, analysts say.

Divided Opinions

SLPP lawmaker Alahapperuma’s nomination was seconded by the SLPP chairman while Wickremesinghe’s nomination was proposed by influential SLPP senior leader Dinseh Gunawardena, who holds the party together.

“Most SLPP will vote for Wickremesinghe because its chairman G L Pieris does not have a major saying in the party,” a political analyst said asking not to be named.

“So if he could gather at least 25 votes from SLPP, Dullas can easily win.”

The opposition SJB is also divided and at least 10 members are likely to vote for Wickremesinghe, party sources said. Meanwhile, minority parties like Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and other minority parties are also divided between the two.

Alahapperuma, a 63-year-old leader from the Southern district of Matara and a journalist by profession, has held several ministerial portfolios including Media, Power, and Sports under Gotabaya Rajapaksa. However, he became an independent MP when public protests started against Rajapaksa and his government.

Alahapperuma has not been a popular leader among his party members, but he is likely to get more votes from SJB than his own party, political analysts say amid a deal to appoint Premadasa as the prime minister once he wins.

“If he can get 25-30 MPs from his own party SLPP to vote for him, he still has the chance to win,” Perera said,

“The final decision depends on how the SLPP block vote going to play the cards tomorrow. But for many of the SLPP members, their personal security is the prime concern after tomorrow,”

Key Issues, Personalities 

The new president, whether it is Wickremesinghe or Alahapperuma, will have to ensure the supply of essentials in the country immediately to ease the months-long protests.

Wickremesinghe has already proven his ability in the last two months amid protests and a lack of foreign inflows.

The public criticized him for repeatedly saying “next two weeks will be the hardest” when he explained the economic situation, but he has managed it better than former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, analysts say.

He still has been stubborn on his policy stance – discussed with the IMF, spoke the reality of the economy, requested Russia to send crude for Sri Lanka despite US sanctions, and negotiated with India on the second $500 million fuel credit line with an assertive behaviour, and raised taxes to increase the government revenue.

Wickremesinghe was instrumental in a 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government troops and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for a separate state in Sri Lanka’s North and East.  The truce later led to exposing the Tamil Tiger rebels’ atrocities internationally and split the LTTE, which later helped President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to militarily defeat LTTE in 2009.

Wickremesinghe also handled the 2001 economic crisis and ensured recovery after the island nation’s tourism was shattered following the LTTE attack over the country’s only airport.

On the other hand, Alahapperuma has never been a popular leader among his own party members. He once left politics and went to the US in 2001 before returning and joining politics under Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005.

He is been seen as a man with principle and integrity, which made him different from Rajapaksas. Though he is not seen as a national leader, he has never been involved in any corrupt deals.

Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, the leader of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, is the third candidate in Wednesday’s poll. He is unlikely to make any difference in the vote unless he withdraws or decides the three-member party to back one of the two main leaders. (Colombo/July 19/2022)

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