Unpopular Sri Lankan PM elected president; risks new turmoil – The Denver Post



COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan lawmakers elected the unpopular prime minister as their new president Wednesday, a choice that risked reigniting turmoil in the South Asian nation reeling from economic collapse.

The crisis has already forced one Sri Lankan leader out, and a few hundred protesters quickly gathered after the vote to express their outrage that Ranil Wickremesinghe — a six-time prime minister whom they see as part of the problematic political establishment — would stay in power.

Sri Lankans have taken to the street for months to demand their top leaders step down as the country spiraled into economic chaos that left its 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. After demonstrators stormed the presidential palace and several other government buildings last week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled and then resigned.

Much of the protesters’ ire is focused on Rajapaksa and his family’s political dynasty, which ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. But many also blame Wickremesinghe for protecting Rajapaksa, and during demonstrations last week, crowds set his personal residence on fire and occupied his office.

Wednesday’s vote means Wickremesinghe — who was also Rajapaksa’s finance minister and became acting president after the leader fled — will finish the presidential term ending in 2024. He can now also appoint a new prime minister.

“I need not tell you the status our country is in. Now that the election is over we have to end this division,” Wickremesinghe, 73, told fellow lawmakers after his victory was announced.

But instead protesters flocked to the presidential residence, chanting, “Ranil, go home.”

“We are very sad, very disappointed with the 225 parliament members who we elected to speak for us, which they have not done,” said Visaka Jayawware, a performance artist in the crowd. “We will keep fighting for the people of Sri Lanka. We have to ask for a general election.”

Wickremesinghe has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs — he noted Wednesday that he had spent 45 years of his life in Parliament — and has led the talks on a bailout package for the bankrupt country with the International Monetary Fund.

But many voters view him with suspicion since he was appointed prime minister by Rajapaksa in May, in hopes he would restore stability.



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