Six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected as crisis-wracked Sri Lanka‘s new president by the country’s parliament Wednesday, with the backing of the party of the ex-leader — who fled abroad after his palace was stormed by protesters.
Official results showed Wickremesinghe polled 134 votes in a three-cornered parliamentary vote, with his main opponent Dullas Alahapperuma getting 82 and leftist Anura Dissanayake just three, giving him an absolute majority on first preferences.
“Our divisions are now over,” Wickremesinghe said in a brief acceptance speech in parliament, inviting Alahapperuma “to join me and work together to bring the country out of the crisis we are facing”.
He said he hoped to be sworn in later Wednesday at a simple ceremony within the tightly guarded parliament building.
The 73-year-old takes charge of a bankrupt nation that is in bailout talks with the IMF, with its 22 million people enduring severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
But he is despised by the protesters who forced his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa from his palace after months of demonstrations over an unprecedented economic crisis as an ally of the former leader.
The Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, the largest in parliament, backed Wickremesinghe for the presidency.
Wickremesinghe has pledged to crack down hard if protesters take to the streets and hundreds of heavily armed troops and police stood guard outside the parliament, but there were no signs of demonstrators.
As acting president, Wickremesinghe extended a state of emergency that gives police and security forces sweeping powers, and last week ordered troops to evict protesters from state buildings they had occupied.