07/19/2022, 18.13
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Sri Lanka’s parliament set to pick a new president

Three candidates are vying for the post of president, but only two, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and opposition-backed five-time MP Dullas Alahapperuma, have any chance. Sri Lanka’s bishops demand that Sri Lankans be allowed to exercise their right to vote. Indian students are arrested for protesting in solidarity with the Sri Lankan people.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa announced today that he will not seek the presidency. This leaves only three candidates vying to replace former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country following anti-government protests that brought the country to a standstill over the past few months.

The Sri Lankan Parliament is set to meet tomorrow to elect a new president. The two leading candidates are 73-year-old Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, who is acting president since the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 63-year-old MP Dullas Alahapperuma, and 53-year-old Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, head of the left-leaning Janatha Vimukti Peramuna party.

Six-time Prime Minister Wickremasinghe is backed by a large faction of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party, but is unpopular with most Sri Lankans.

Yesterday, he tweeted that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are on their last stretch, and once struck, the deal should breathe new life into the country's economy.

However, protesters were in the streets again today to protest against his candidacy demanding his resignation because of his close ties to the Rajapaksa clan.

The second candidate, Dullas Alahapperuma, is a former journalist and a five-time MP, who enjoys the support of the opposition and a part of the majority.

Sajith Premadasa, head of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, announced that his party would support Alahapperuma, who is seen as a more reliable politician even among ordinary Sri Lankans.

With his party holding only three seats in parliament, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka has almost no chance of winning.

In view of the situation, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka expressed "grave concern about the unfortunate and unprecedented political turmoil that is currently affecting the country.”

The prelates called for a caretaker government that can achieve political and economic stability. At the same time, they demand that the leaders rejected by the population no longer be allowed to hold government office, while the others “set a calendar for a general election, to let the people freely exercise their right to vote and choose their representatives.”

The president elected tomorrow by parliament will remain in office until 2024, completing Rajapaksa's mandate, with the complicated task of leading the country out of its current economic morass.

A few months ago, Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt of more than US$ 50 billion. Since then, it has been unable to import fuel and inflation has hit 54 per cent; this has made it virtually impossible for most people to buy basic necessities, especially food and medicine.

Grassroots protests against the high cost of living reached a crescendo on 9 July when protesters stormed the President’s House, forcing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee.

Over the past year, Sri Lanka has turned to China and India for assistance.

India's High Commissioner (ambassador) to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay, told the Indian Express newspaper that Delhi is willing to provide additional aid beyond the US$ 3.8 billion already granted this year.

"The idea is to respond to Sri Lanka's requests for enabling them to meet their foreign exchange crisis," said Gopal Baglay, India's high commissioner in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, in India, university students were arrested in Delhi for staging a protest in solidarity with the Sri Lankan people.

Two days later, activists gathered in front of the Indian High Commission (embassy) in Colombo demanding their immediate release.

“The Indian people are close to the people of Sri Lanka,” said university student Sithara Kularatna speaking to AsiaNews. Like many others, she took part in the protest in a show of solidarity, and is critical of the Indian government for being “close to the Sri Lankan government with hidden agendas”.

“We condemn this illegal arrest,” said Swasthika Arulingam, a Sri Lankan lawyer and activist. “It is true, India offered us its support during the crisis and we are pleased about it, but we are also aware of projects by private companies that are not in Sri Lanka's interest.”

Melani Manel Perera contributed to this article.

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