Six-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected as crisis-wracked Sri Lanka’s new President in a parliamentary vote Wednesday, with the backing of the disgraced former leader’s party.
Official results gave the veteran politician 134 votes, an absolute majority in the 225-member parliament after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned in the wake of protesters overrunning his palace.
“Our divisions are now over,” Wickremesinghe said in a brief acceptance speech in the parliament, urging his defeated rivals to “join me and work together to bring the country out of the crisis we are facing.”
Wickremesinghe takes charge of a bankrupt nation that is in bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund, with its 22 million people enduring severe shortages of food, fuel, and medicines.
But he was backed by the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party – still the largest in parliament – and despised as a proxy for the former leader, whom the protesters forced from his palace after months of demonstrations over the unprecedented economic crisis.
They have also been demanding the departure of Wickremesinghe, who on Wednesday, reiterated his vow to crack down on lawbreakers.
Hundreds of heavily armed troops and police stood guard outside the parliament, but there were no signs of demonstrators.
Outside the presidential secretariat, where protesters camped for months, actress Damitha Abeyrathne, 45, said, “We lost. The whole country lost.”
“The politicians are fighting for their power. They are not fighting for the people. They have no feeling for people who are suffering.”
The struggle would continue, she told newsmen.
But Wickremesinghe vowed to take tough action against anyone resorting to what he called the undemocratic means that led to his predecessor’s ouster.
“If you try to topple the government, occupy the President’s office and the Prime Minister’s office, that is not democracy and we will deal with them firmly,” he said on an evening visit to a Buddhist temple.