Sri Lankan lawmakers on Wednesday elected former prime minister and acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the new president, hoping his long experience in government would help pull the country out of a crippling economic and political crisis.
The six-time prime minister garnered 134 votes in the 225-member parliament, despite public anger with the ruling elite after months of severe shortages of fuel, food and medicines. read more
"Our country is facing massive challenges and we have to work on a new strategy to fulfil the aspirations of the people," the 73-year-old leader said after his victory. "Now everyone must come together."
The response of protesters was broadly muted, with just about 100 people gathered on the steps of the presidential secretariat, but some vowed to turn their focus to dislodging Wickremesinghe.
"We're shocked. He's a person handling things in a very cunning way," protester Damitha Abeyrathne said of the leader. "He will start controlling us in a different way. As protesters, we will start our struggle again."
Many of the hundreds of thousands who poured into the streets to force the ouster last week of previous president Gotabaya Rajapaksa had wanted Wickremesinghe gone too, labelling him an ally of the Rajapaksa family.
But one organiser of previous protests, Chameera Dedduwage, said Rajapaksa's removal had been one of the movement's goals, and protesters would have to be satisfied with achieving it.
"Unlike GR, Ranil is not a populist: he's known to be a ruthless pragmatist," Dedduwage said, referring to Rajapaksa by his initials.
Recall that Wickremesinghe took over as acting president last week, after Rajapaksa fled on a military plane to the Maldives before taking a commercial flight to Singapore.
The other key candidate in Wednesday's contest, ruling party lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma, received just 82 votes. A third candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, got just three, a parliament official said.
Two lawmakers did not attend the session and four votes were ruled invalid.