Sri Lanka’s economy has been in major trouble for quite some time, with the country’s residents unable to afford fuel, medicine and other basic necessities. Its inflation rate is also reaching staggering levels of over 50%, and its foreign currency reserves are low. With the economic turmoil, frustration spread across the country, leading to protests demanding ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign. Last week, he did and appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president.
Wickremesinghe is also deeply unpopular among the protestors, with many seeing him as leftovers from the previous administration and complicit in the mismanagement of the nation’s economy. In fact, protestors burned down his home and stormed his office last week. The 73-year-old has spent four and a half decades in politics and is a six-time prime minister.
On Wednesday, 134 Sri Lankan lawmakers chose Wickremesinghe to serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. On Monday, Wickremesinghe declared his achievements since being appointed as the country’s head, which included getting close to a deal with the IMF for a bailout agreement and making headway with foreign countries for help. After extending a state of emergency order this week, a question many are wondering is whether Wickremesinghe will crack down on the protests.
“I am absolutely disgusted at the result … I cannot believe that 134 people – MPs that are supposed to represent the people – have completely disregarded the wants of the people," said one protestor, Jeana De Zoysa.
“I am not surprised, but still disappointed at how corrupt and unfair the system is. We won’t back down, we won’t settle for anything less. We will fight for what we deserve. People deserve fuel, transportation, we deserve anything citizens need. Until we see no one in Sri Lanka is struggling, the protest continues," said protestor Kasumi Ranasinghe Arachchige.
“The Parliament of Sri Lanka, in exercise of the provisions of the Sri Lankan Constitution, has today elected H.E. Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President of Sri Lanka. As a close friend and neighbour of Sri Lanka and a fellow democracy, we will continue to be supportive of the quest of the people of Sri Lanka for stability and economic recovery, through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework," wrote the Indian Embassy in a statement on Twitter.
“The country is in a very bad situation, and we have very big challenges, so I want everyone’s support. The youth are clamouring for change," Wickremesinghe said in Parliament.
“I accept the decision of Parliament. My effort was to support consensus-based policy-making to provide solutions to a deeply suffering population. I believe the space for that still exists, and I will continue to work to strengthen that effort and work for the people. This is simply another milestone in my career. I hope that at least now you will cultivate the mentality to listen to the suffering masses," said presidential rival and lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma.