COLOMBO: A six-time prime minister, the leader of the main opposition party and a journalist-turned-ruling-party politician are vying to become Sri Lanka’s next president, after incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country this week .
Sri Lanka’s speaker of parliament will convene the legislature after receiving Rajapaksa’s official resignation and its 225 members will vote to elect a new speaker, likely next week.
The winning candidate must secure a simple majority in parliament, but also win the trust of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans who took part in the protest movement – known as “Aragalaya”, or “struggle” in Sinhalese – which led to the ousting of Rajapaksa. .
Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office for the sixth time in May and was named interim president, is among the candidates for the top job, two political sources said.
Although Wickremesinghe’s party holds only one seat in parliament, sections of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), including the president’s brother Basil Rajapaksa, support him, the sources said.
An SLPP official said party members believe Wickremesinghe – who is also the country’s finance minister – has a good grasp of the economic challenges facing Sri Lanka.
Wickremesinghe has been involved in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout and a new budget.
But the 73-year-old politician remains deeply unpopular among many protesters, hundreds of whom have clashed with security forces and occupied his office this week.
Leader of the Opposition
Sajith Premadasa, 55, leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party, is another candidate in the fray. But with only around 50 lawmakers in parliament, he will need to garner bipartisan support to stand a chance.
Premadasa studied at the London School of Economics and entered politics after his father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, was assassinated in a suicide bombing in 1993.
He entered Parliament in 2000, then served as Deputy Minister of Health of Sri Lanka. In 2018, he was appointed Minister of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs.
“The SJB parliamentary group voted for the nomination Sajith Premadasa because he understands the depth of people’s suffering and has always supported their call for change,” said Eran Wickramaratne, a senior SJB official who has also forged ties with the Aragalaya protest movement. .
“This government has clearly lost its mandate and it’s time to listen to the people,” Wickramaratne said.
Former journalist
The third favorite and potential dark horse is Dullas Alahapperumaa senior SLPP legislator who had gained ground among some of his party colleagues.
The ruling party has about 117 votes that could be used to field a candidate like the 63-year-old former journalist and get him across the line, SLPP MP Charitha Herath said.
Alahapperuma, who entered parliament in 1994, served as media minister and cabinet spokesman but resigned in April when President Rajapaksa dissolved the cabinet after protesters surrounded his private residence.
“I am a pragmatist. We need a candidate who is acceptable to Aragalaya and the general public, but someone who can also win the approval of parliamentarians,” Herath said.
“It’s not easy to have such a person,” he said. “Dullas would be a great and practical option.”

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