Who are the frontrunners to be Sri Lanka’s next president?

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Sri Lanka is in political turmoil after anger over the country’s worst economic crisis in 70 years cascaded into a public uprising, forcing the president to resign and flee the country.

After reaching Singapore on Thursday night following his escape to the Maldives on a military jet, president Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave his formal resignation - marking an end to nearly 20 years of rule by the family.

To fill the political vacuum, incumbent prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also facing pressure to step down, has taken the role of acting president.

The speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament says meetings will begin on Saturday to choose the new president. So far three candidates have thrown their hats in the ring to lead the country that is suffering crippling shortages of food, petrol and diesel and runaway prices of basic amenities like bread and gas.

Ranil Wickremesinghe - prime minister

The current prime minister and finance minister of the country, who is also newly sworn in as interim president after being selected by Mr Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to run for the position permanently, his ruling Podujana Peramuna party announced on Friday.

“We have decided to back Ranil Wickremesinghe as our presidential candidate,” Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) general secretary Sagara Kariyawasam told Reuters.

Mr Wickremesinghe, 73, has served six stints as prime minister of the cash-strapped nation – but has never completed a full term.

His sixth tenure began in May when he was appointed by Mr Rajapaksa to help bring international credibility to his government as it negotiated a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was also made the finance minister in May after one of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned from the post (REUTERS)
Ranil Wickremesinghe was also made the finance minister in May after one of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned from the post (REUTERS)

Mr Wickremesinghe – who was also made the finance minister in May after one of Mr Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned from the post – soon became the face of the economic collapse of the country.

But the ruling party remains dominated by the family of the former president and his nomination reportedly has backing from Mr Rajapaksa’s brother Basil Rajapaksa.

Sajith Premadasa - opposition leader

Sri Lanka’s main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa announced his bid to run for president on 12 July.

The 55-year-old leader of the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party held talks with allies to get support for the move in the parliament.

“We are continuing and stepping up our efforts to take responsibility to protect our motherland and its people. Continuously seeking support from all to achieve this task,” he tweeted on Friday.

An MP in Colombo, Mr Premadasa lost the last presidential elections in 2019.

Sri Lanka’s Opposition Leader and leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya Sajith Premadasa  during protest (EPA)
Sri Lanka’s Opposition Leader and leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya Sajith Premadasa during protest (EPA)

Mr Premadasa is the son of former Sri Lankan prime minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in a suicide bombing in 1993 by LTTE militants.

He studied at the London School of Economics and served as deputy health minister in 2001, gaining popularity for his stand on issues of racism and alienation of minorities.

“We are not going to hoodwink the people. We are going to be frank and present a plan to get rid of Sri Lanka’s economic ills,” Mr Premadasa told BBC News.

Dullas Alahapperuma - journalist

A former journalist, Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, has been dubbed a potential dark horse in the surprise presidential elections in the country.

Announcing his run for the elections, Mr Alahapperuma said that the “people of this country should not suffer any more hardship, hardship or despair”.

“I ask for the support of fellow MPs, who believe that needs to embark on a new, constructive course. Together, let’s commit to guide to the path of economic prosperity while upholding rule of law and maintaining ethnic solidarity,” he said.

He served as minister of mass media and a cabinet spokesperson (AFP via Getty Images)
He served as minister of mass media and a cabinet spokesperson (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Alahapperuma is a senior MP for the ruling SLPP party. He was serving as the minister of mass media and a cabinet spokesperson before he resigned in April when disgraced President Rajapaksa dissolved the cabinet.

Putting his weight behind the politician, SLPP lawmaker Charitha Herath said: “I’m a pragmatist. We need a candidate who is acceptable to the Aragalaya (struggle) and the larger public but someone who can also get parliamentarians’ approval.”

“It is not easy to get such a person,” he said. “Dullas would be a formidable and practical option.”

He is also emerging as a popular choice of the governing alliance and is believed to be close to the Rajapaksa family.

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