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Sri Lanka live news: Protesters meet after Wickremesinghe victory

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Sri Lanka's parliament has elected Prime Minister and Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe new president [File: Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press]
Wickremesinghe will have to rely on Rajapaksa party: Analyst

Wickremesinghe has been elected the president of Sri Lanka, but with his party holding only one seat in parliament, he will have to rely on the powerful Rajapaksa family’s political party and other allies to be an effective leader amid the country’s ongoing economic crisis, Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at Centre for Policy Alternatives, told Al Jazeera.

“He will have to rely on the Rajapaksa’s political party the SLPP for any legislative reforms that he wants to push through parliament,” she told Al Jazeera. “I suspect there will be influence from the Rajapaksa’s family. What we will have to see is what is the extent of that influence.”

“The other (element to consider) is whether he will still be able to rally the public,” Fonseka added. “He is extremely unpopular and his legitimacy has been questioned. So if can he actually govern as the eighth president remains to be seen.”

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(Al Jazeera)

Who is Sri Lanka’s new president?

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(Al Jazeera)

The IMF hopes to complete Sri Lanka aid talks ‘as quickly as possible’: Report

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) hopes to complete rescue talks with Sri Lanka “as quickly as possible,” Nikkei Asia has reported, quoting IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

Speaking with Nikkei Asia in Tokyo, Georgieva said the fund was “very deeply concerned about the wellbeing of the people in Sri Lanka,” which has been gripped by severe shortages of fuel, food and other essentials after its foreign reserves dried up.

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Supporters celebrate after Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected as the eighth president of the country [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]
India denies local media report it sought to influence election

India has denied a local media report that said it sought to influence how legislators voted to elect the new president.

“We have seen baseless and purely speculative media reports about efforts at political level from India to influence political leaders in Sri Lanka regarding elections in the Sri Lankan Parliament to the post of the President of Sri Lanka,” India’s High Commission in Sri Lanka said in a statement.

“We categorically deny these media reports as completely false,” it said. “They are clearly a figment of someone’s imagination.”

“It is reiterated that India supports the realisation of aspirations of the people of Sri Lanka in accordance with democratic means and values, established institutions as well as constitutional provisions, and doesn’t interfere in internal affairs and democratic processes of another country.”

In June, Wickremesinghe told Al Jazeera he could save the country’s economy

Speaking to Al Jazeera at the end of June, then-Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said he was confident he could turn around Sri Lanka’s crisis-hit economy, saying things should “pick up” by 2024.

In a wide-ranging interview at his official residence, Wickremesinghe laid out plans to lift Sri Lanka out of its worst crisis since independence in 1948, fuelled by years of import-oriented policy, as well as economic mismanagement.

“I have confidence I can turn the economy around,” he said.

Read more here.

Protesters ‘discussing strategy and regrouping’: Leader

A protest leader has told Al Jazeera that demonstrators are currently discussing their future strategy following the election of Wickremesinghe.

“We are currently discussing our strategy and regrouping. We will definitely continue our struggle and our occupation at GotaGoGama until Ranil Wickremesinghe resigns. This is definitely not what we wanted,” protest leader Melani Gunathilake said.

“We know very well that Ranil Wickremesinghe isn’t the same as Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is a more cunning person. And recently he has even been trying to suppress the protest by imposing state of emergency and sending air force helicopters over GotaGoGama. But I don’t think people will be intimidated by these actions any more,” Gunathilake said.

“Sri Lanka deserves a leader who actually cares for its people, not somebody thinks about his political future.”

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Protestors in their tent watch telecast of Parliament electing new president in Colombo, Sri Lanka [File: Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press]

Protesters will have to ‘find new ways to win our remaining demands’: Organiser

A leader of the protest movement in Sri Lanka, known as “aragalaya”, has said that protesters will have to find new ways “to win our remaining demands”.

While protesters had called for both the resignation of former President Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, they “will have to be satisfied” with just Rajapaksa’s resignation, protest organiser Chameera Dedduwage told Reuters news agency.

“Unlike Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Ranil is not a populist: he’s known to be a ruthless pragmatist,” Dedduwage said. “I think the immediate concern is the possible prosecution of leading members of the aragalaya.”

 

Alahapperuma says hopes new president will ‘listen to the suffering masses’

Legilator Alahapperuma, who lost to Wickremensinghe in the presidential vote, has said “he accepts the decision of parliament”.

“My effort was to support consensus-based policymaking to provide solutions to a deeply suffering population,” he said. “I believe the space for that still exists and I will continue to work to strengthen that effort and work for the people.

“I hope that at least now you will cultivate the mentality to listen to the suffering masses,” he said.

 

Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez has said that widespread unrest is expected in wake of parliament electing Wickremesinghe, who is closely aligned with the powerful Rajapaksa family, as new president.

“Obviously, the long arm of the Rajapaksa family is believed to still be very much at play here, according to many protesters,” she said.”That’s one of the reasons that they have such a lot of anger and frustration about how [Wickremesinghe] has ascended to the highest position in the land.

“In terms of the sort of warnings or the indications from protesters, we heard it as as recently as in yesterday’s processions and protests again this morning while people were waiting to see how the election would go, that they would not take this sitting down,” she said.

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Demonstrators watch a public screen in Colombo, Sri Lanka [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]
Wickremesinghe calls for unity to ’embark on a way forward’

Addressing parliament, newly elected Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe has called for unity to “embark on a way forward”.

The six-time prime minister called on the other candidates, as well as the opposition to work together to address the country’s crisis.

“It is not necessarily to say how hard the condition of the country is economically,” he said. “We have to embark on a new programme to go forward.

“Now I’m requesting everybody to join together to discuss for our way forward,” he said.

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A screenshot shows newly elected President Wickremesinghe addressing parliament [Al Jazeera]

Sri Lankan politicians have elected six-time Prime Minister Wickremesinghe as president, in a move expected to set off more protests in the crisis-hit country.

After a closely contested election Wickremesinghe has secured 134 votes while his main rival Dullas Alahapperuma secured 82.

The third candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, only secured the three votes from his own party.

Read more here.

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Supporters of Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrate after he was elected president in Colombo, Sri Lanka [File: Rafiq Maqbool/The Associated Press]

Counting appears to end in vote for new president

Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said voting appears to have finished in the parliamentary vote for a new president.

“The counting process has finished,” said Fernandez, adding the country was waiting for an announcement of the results.

“People are waiting to see with bated breath the outcome of what happens at that vote in the parliamentary chamber,” she said.

“We’ve heard for recent weeks that people are not going to take kindly to their wishes being ignored,” she added. “Even as recently as yesterday, we had people marching in Colombo, demanding that the parliamentarians who vote today respect the wishes of the people and reflect the wishes of the people.”

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Demonstrators watch a public screen as parliament votes for a new president in Colombo, Sri Lanka on July 20, 2022 [File: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Counting begins in ‘historic election’

The parliament has concluded the voting for the next president.

While one MP, GG Ponnambalam, the leader of Tamil National People’s Front, abstained, another Tamil MP, Selvaraja Gajendran, did not attend the session.

Together with his officials, the secretary-general began counting 223 votes in the middle of the chamber as representatives of the candidates were watching closely. A candidate will need 112 votes to secure victory.

Tourism minister Harin Fernando was named by Wickremesinghe, MP Dilan Perera was named by Alahapperuma and MP Vijitha Herath was named by candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayaka as their respective representatives to monitor the counting.

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A protestor holds Sri Lankan flag outside president’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka [File: Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press]

Sri Lanka Freedom Party throws weight behind Alahapperuma

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), led by former President Maithripala Sirisena, has decided to vote for opposition candidate Dullas Alahapperuma.

The party has 14 seats within the ruling coalition in the 225-seat chamber. It had earlier decided to abstain from voting.

The SLFP made the decision following a request by the protesters, but it is not clear how many of its MPs would stand by the party’s decision.
Local media reported that Sirisena was offered the speaker’s post if opposition-backed Alahapperuma wins the presidency.

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Protesters shout slogans demanding the acting president and prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, resign, in Colombo, on Tuesday [Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo]

MPs told crosses on ballots will be invalid

The secretary-general of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake, has reminded the MPs that their ballot papers will be declared invalid if they mark a cross in front of the chosen candidate.

He urged them to mark “1” in front of the chosen candidate. The MPs can also mark “2” and “3” against other candidates if they so wish, but there is no requirement to mark other preferences.

The second time Sri Lanka Parliament appoints a president

It is the first time that Sri Lanka’s Parliament has voted to replace a head of state, as well as the first time ever that a serving head of state has resigned in the country.

But the parliament also had a similar session in May 1993 after the assassination of then-President R Premadasa, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa’s father, by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber on May Day.

On that day, the whole parliament unanimously approved the appointment of acting President DB Wijetunga, who was the prime minister at the time of the assassination. Wijetunga did not contest after serving the remainder of Premadasa’s term.

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Policemen stand guard outside the Parliament building in Colombo, Sri Lanka [File: Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo]

MPs barred from taking photos of ballot paper

The parliament’s speaker and the secretary-general have urged the parliamentarians to behave responsibly and warned not to show their ballot papers to anybody else.

The MPs are barred from bringing their mobile phones to the ballot box.

It is against the oath they have taken as MPs to reveal their ballot paper or take its photos, reminded the speaker.

Media reports said some political parties have asked their MPs to take a photo of their ballot papers to check if they defied the party line.

Main Tamil party to vote for Alahapperuma

The main Tamil party in Sri Lankan Parliament, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), announced overnight all its 10 MPs unanimously decided to vote for the opposition-backed Alahapperuma.

However, some members of the party have criticised the decision.

Several Muslim parties and coalition partners of opposition leader Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) have also announced their support for Alahapperuma.

Since there is no unanimity in any Sri Lankan political party right now, it is not clear how many MPs would stick with party decisions when they cast their secret vote.

Sri Lankan parliament begins voting for new president

Sri Lanka’s parliament has begun the election for a new president to replace Rajapaksa, who fled the country and resigned last week.

The parliament’s secretary-general, Dhammika Dasanayake, rang the quorum bell to signal the start of the secret ballot vote in which 225 legislators will choose between three candidates for head of state of the crisis-wracked country.

‘Historic day’: Parliament speaker ahead of vote

Announcing the process to elect a new president, Parliamentary Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said it was “a historic day”.

It is the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that the parliament is voting to replace a head of state.

“I am sure the whole country and the whole world is watching what happens in our parliament today,” Abeywardena said.

The speaker urged members of Parliament to behave responsibly and warned them not to show their ballot papers to anybody else. The legislators are also barred from bringing their mobile phones to the ballot box.

What if Ranil Wickremesinghe loses?

If acting President Wickremesinghe loses, he most likely will also lose his job as prime minister because the new president has the discretion to appoint a new prime minister.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa will presumably be appointed prime minister if opposition-backed candidate Alahapperuma wins the presidency.

Wickremesinghe is a six-time prime minister making his third attempt at the highest office after losing presidential elections in 1999 and 2005.

Chaos feared if six-time PM voted president

A win for acting President Wickremesinghe, one of the two main contenders but opposed by many Sri Lankans, could lead to more demonstrations by people furious with the ruling elite after months of crippling shortages of fuel, food and medicines.

Wickremesinghe is deeply unpopular among the general public, which sees him as a holdover from the Rajapaksa government that led the country into an economic catastrophe.

Only a few legislators have publicly said they would vote for Wickremesinghe, given the hostility against him.

How Sri Lankan president is elected

A secret vote will be conducted by the Secretary General of the parliament; the speaker also has a vote.

Every member of Parliament has a single vote but instead of marking a cross, they are required to mark their preferences from ‘1’ to ‘3’ as there are three candidates in the race.

A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If there are 100 members of Parliament present at the time of the voting, the winner is required to secure at least 51 votes.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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