Whether Ranil wins or Dullas, peace remains a far cry

Demonstrators gather on the lawn after some of them entered the building of the office of Sri Lanka's prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka 13 July 2022.Reuters

Today, Wednesday, lawmakers in the Sri Lankan parliament are set to elect a new president.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP), Dullas Alahapperuma of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake were officially nominated in parliament in a background where emergency regulations have been imposed. Sajith Premadasa, leader of the breakaway faction of the United National Party (UNP) – the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) who was to contest for the Presidency backed out of the race on Tuesday, in a bid to assist Dullas Alahaperuma to win and defeat Ranil Wickremesinghe. Premadasa resents Wickremesinghe’s refusal to give him timely leadership of the UNP ahead of the 2019 presidential elections. Premadasa’s nomination for the elections in 2019 was given grudgingly by Wickremesinghe and at the last moment.

In the current contest for the presidency following the forced resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, MP Dullas Alahapperuma was nominated for the post by opposition leader Sajith Premadasa while it was seconded by Foreign Minister Prof. GL Peiris.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa resoundingly won the presidential election of 16 November 2019 voted in mostly by the Sinhalese Buddhists who make up a majority in the island nation. Gotabaya who was previously the wartime defence secretary hailed for defeating the LTTE.soon ran into a rift with his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa after taking over as president.

The Covid pandemic and other conditions, including what is believed to be rampant corruption and wastage building up over time where the Rajapaksas stand chiefly accused forced the country into bankruptcy. The result was a people’s uprising which commenced in April this year with the backing of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and the university student union linked to it, with the tactical backing of the parliament represented Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s name was nominated for the presidency by Leader of the House and Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and it was seconded by minister Manusha Nanayakkara.

Wickremesinghe, though considered a political opponent of the Rajapaksa’s, was appointed prime minister after mobs demanded the ousting of Mahinda Rajapaksa early May. According to the constitution he became the acting president after Gotabaya resigned on 14 July.

In the current context, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s name was nominated for the post of president by JVP MP Vijitha Herath and seconded by JVP MP Harini Amarasuriya but his chances of being voted in during the secret ballot exercised during parliament is considered to be weak.

The JVP has a violent history, being responsible for two bloody uprisings in 1971 and 1989 which resulted in thousands of deaths of youth and subsequent ruthless reaction by the then UNP regime where Ranil Wickremesinghe was at the helm.

Wickremesinghe whose name is connected with the torture chambers of Batalanda in Sri Lanka where JVP youth activists were tortured to death or were maimed, has vowed to control ‘fascists’ in the current uprising.

The head of the Frontline Socialists Party (FSP) Kumar Gunaratnam, a breakaway member of the JVP and known for his penchant for rebellion has in turn vowed not to withdraw from the struggle unless Wickremesinghe resigns.

Wickremesinghe is accused of being in cahoots with the Rajapaksas and his appointment is seen as a violation of democracy.

Although the FSP was at the forefront of the rebellion, thousands of politically neutral Sri Lankans belonging to the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities kept the struggle alive from April 2022 onwards to date. The international community is believed to have given tactical support for the protests and the upholding of democracy while some, especially segments of the Buddhists clergy, see it as an effort to destabilize Sri Lanka.

Over the past weeks over 100 politicians, mainly in government ranks, had their houses burnt to ashes, including the house and personal library of Ranil Wickremesinghe and his non-political academic wife Prof. Maithri Wickremesighe

Gotabaya was ousted when Wickremesinghe who is seemingly seen as having good international rapport was preparing to negotiate with the IMF for a crucial bailout that Lanka desperately needs.

The general assumption points to Dullas Allahaperuma likely to win the vote on Wednesday. Allahaperuma was the minister of Information and Mass Media under the SLPP government of the Rajapaksas.

Whether he will be able to handle the economic crisis in Sri Lanka and put an end to power cuts, fuel queues, food shortages and rising prices is uncertain. But the anger of the people continuing seems certain.

Over the past weeks over 100 politicians, mainly in government ranks, had their houses burnt to ashes, including the house and personal library of Ranil Wickremesinghe and his non-political academic wife Prof. Maithri Wickremesighe.

The core of the anger was directed at the Rajapaksa family rule which had brothers, sons and other relatives running the country oblivious to the suffering of the people. Capable ministers and the few honest politicians within the government were not given a chance to get to the forefront and serve the people.