Who will be Sri Lanka’s next president? Race narrows to three candidates ahead of vote

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A demonstrator displays a headband with a slogan against interim Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Galle face protest area near Presidential secretariat in Colombo  (AFP/Getty)
A demonstrator displays a headband with a slogan against interim Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Galle face protest area near Presidential secretariat in Colombo (AFP/Getty)

Sri Lanka is gearing up to choose a new president as the race narrows down to three candidates.

Leaders from across political parties nominated their candidates for president on Tuesday. Lawmakers will now cast a parliamentary vote in Colombo on Wednesday to choose who will become the head of state of a country reeling under an economic crisis that has made daily living immensely painful for its ordinary citizens.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the unpopular interim president, is among those who have thrown their hats into the ring but who protesters want to step aside.

Students and activists are angry at Mr Wickremesinghe’s leadership bid as he is perceived to be an extension of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failed government, which has been accused of widespread economic mismanagement and corruption.

Students and other groups are also against Mr Wickremesinghe because he is believed to lack public confidence and political heft. On social media, warnings against lawmakers to not return to their constituencies if they vote for him have been circulating, the Associated Press reports.

Sajith Premadasa, the son of an assassinated president and leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, was in the fray until he ceded his run to Dullas Alahapperuma.

Mr Alahapperuma is a senior ruling party lawmaker who served as the minister of mass media and also as a cabinet spokesperson. He is seen as a “dark horse” in the running for the top job.

The third candidate in the running is Marxist leader Anura Dissanayake who had unsuccessfully contested for the post earlier in 2019.

Mr Rajapaksa had earlier fled the country to Singapore, ostensibly for a “private visit”, after protesters’ anger reached a crescendo that led to his palace being overrun.

Mr Rajapaksa subsequently emailed his resignation from abroad last week.

The former president’s term is scheduled to end in 2024.

Sri Lanka has been mired in protests for four months after being hit hard by the Covid pandemic and tax cuts.

But civil protests escalated after the Rajapaksa administration led the island country into the worst economic crisis it has faced since independence from Great Britain in 1948, something denied by the self-exiled president who held previous administrations responsible.

Inflation in the country has breached the 50 per cent mark and civilians are reeling under severe shortage of food, fuel and medicines, forcing many to storm shops and flood streets in protest.

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