Ex-premier, 2 others vie for Sri Lanka presidency

COLOMBO: Three candidates were nominated on Tuesday to replace Sri Lanka's former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the South Asian country and resigned last week after protesters overran his official residence.The winner will take charge of a bankrupt island nation that is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, with its 22 million people enduring severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines.Sri Lanka ran out of foreign exchange to finance even the most vital imports in a crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by mismanagement, critics say.Months of protests culminated in Rajapaksa fleeing the presidential palace before flying to the Maldives and then to Singapore, from where he submitted his resignation.The Sri Lankan parliament announced on Tuesday that acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe would face former education minister Dullas Alahapperuma — who has the backing of the main opposition — and leftist leader Anura Dissanayake in a secret ballot on Wednesday.The three were formally nominated by legislators in a session that lasted less than 10 minutes at the tightly guarded parliament building.Moments earlier, Sajith Premadasa, leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People's Power) opposition party, announced on Twitter that he was withdrawing from the race in favor of the 63-year-old Alahapperuma, a dissident member of Rajapaksa's divided Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or Sri Lanka People's Front) party."For the greater good of my country that I love and the people I cherish, I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the position of president," Premadasa said. He went on to nominate Alahapperuma, a former journalist and rights campaigner in the late 1980s, when Premadasa's late father Ranasinghe ruled the country with an iron fist.An SJB legislator told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the two men struck a deal overnight for Premadasa to be chosen as the new prime minister should Alahapperuma be elected president on Wednesday."We have a common minimum program that we agreed on," the SJB member of parliament said. "We had only one sticking point about who will be the president and that was sorted out last night."But Wickremesinghe, 73, a veteran political operator and six-time premier, has the formal backing of the leadership of the SLPP, which remains the largest party in the 225-member legislature.If Wickremesinghe is confirmed in the post, he is expected to name public administration minister Dinesh Gunawardena, a school friend of his and a strong Rajapaksa loyalist, as the new premier.Dissanayake, 53, leads the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP or People's Liberation Front) party, which has three parliamentary seats.A possible fourth candidate, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, failed to get support from legislators to enter the presidential race.The new leader will be in office for the rest of Rajapaksa's term, which ends in November 2024.On Monday, Wickremesinghe extended a state of emergency that gave sweeping powers to police and security forces to deal with troublemakers.The protesters, whose massive public show of force dislodged Rajapaksa, were planning another rally in the capital Colombo to also demand the acting president's resignation.They see him as an ally and protector of the Rajapaksa clan, which has dominated Sri Lankan politics for years.Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya's elder brother and head of the family, remains in the country, and party sources said he was pressing SLPP legislators to support Wickremesinghe.

COLOMBO: Three candidates were nominated on Tuesday to replace Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the South Asian country and resigned last week after protesters overran his official residence.

The winner will take charge of a bankrupt island nation that is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, with its 22 million people enduring severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

Sri Lanka ran out of foreign exchange to finance even the most vital imports in a crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by mismanagement, critics say.

Months of protests culminated in Rajapaksa fleeing the presidential palace before flying to the Maldives and then to Singapore, from where he submitted his resignation.

The Sri Lankan parliament announced on Tuesday that acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe would face former education minister Dullas Alahapperuma — who has the backing of the main opposition — and leftist leader Anura Dissanayake in a secret ballot on Wednesday.

The three were formally nominated by legislators in a session that lasted less than 10 minutes at the tightly guarded parliament building.

Moments earlier, Sajith Premadasa, leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Power) opposition party, announced on Twitter that he was withdrawing from the race in favor of the 63-year-old Alahapperuma, a dissident member of Rajapaksa’s divided Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or Sri Lanka People’s Front) party.

“For the greater good of my country that I love and the people I cherish, I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the position of president,” Premadasa said. He went on to nominate Alahapperuma, a former journalist and rights campaigner in the late 1980s, when Premadasa’s late father Ranasinghe ruled the country with an iron fist.

An SJB legislator told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the two men struck a deal overnight for Premadasa to be chosen as the new prime minister should Alahapperuma be elected president on Wednesday.

“We have a common minimum program that we agreed on,” the SJB member of parliament said. “We had only one sticking point about who will be the president and that was sorted out last night.”

But Wickremesinghe, 73, a veteran political operator and six-time premier, has the formal backing of the leadership of the SLPP, which remains the largest party in the 225-member legislature.

If Wickremesinghe is confirmed in the post, he is expected to name public administration minister Dinesh Gunawardena, a school friend of his and a strong Rajapaksa loyalist, as the new premier.

Dissanayake, 53, leads the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP or People’s Liberation Front) party, which has three parliamentary seats.

A possible fourth candidate, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, failed to get support from legislators to enter the presidential race.

The new leader will be in office for the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.

On Monday, Wickremesinghe extended a state of emergency that gave sweeping powers to police and security forces to deal with troublemakers.

The protesters, whose massive public show of force dislodged Rajapaksa, were planning another rally in the capital Colombo to also demand the acting president’s resignation.

They see him as an ally and protector of the Rajapaksa clan, which has dominated Sri Lankan politics for years.

Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s elder brother and head of the family, remains in the country, and party sources said he was pressing SLPP legislators to support Wickremesinghe.

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