Sri Lankan lawmakers voted in acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new president on Wednesday, hoping his long experience in government would help pull the country out of a crippling economic and political crisis.
The 225-member parliament gave 134 votes to Wickremesinghe and 82 to the other main candidate, ruling party lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma. A third candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, got just three votes, according to a statement by the secretary general of parliament.
The mood of protesters was muted, with only around 100 people on the steps of the presidential secretariat amid concerns that protests may resume since Wickremesinghe is also unpopular.
Many of the hundreds of thousands on the streets who forced the ouster of previous president Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week had wanted Wickremesinghe gone too, labelling him an ally of the Rajapaksa family.
“We’re shocked. He’s a person handling things in a very cunning way,” protester Damitha Abeyrathne said of Wickremesinghe. “He will start controlling us in a different way. As protesters, we will start our struggle again.”
The win for Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, came despite public anger with the ruling elite after months of severe shortages of fuel, food and medicines.
Chameera Dedduwage, an organiser of previous protests, said one of the goals of the movement was the removal of Rajapaksa, and with that achieved, it “will have to be satisfied with its primary demand”.
Wickremesinghe became acting president last week after Rajapaksa fled on a military plane to the Maldives and then took a commercial flight to Singapore.
“I accept the decision of parliament,” he said. “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.”
“Now everyone must come together,” the 73-year-old said after his victory.
The runner up, Alahapperuma, although more acceptable to the protesters and the opposition, does not have any top-level governance experience in a country with barely any dollars for imports and desperately in need of an IMF bailout.
Former President Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May, hoping to bring stability to a country engulfed in its worst economic crisis in memory.
He is a seasoned politician with wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs but unpopular among voters who view him as a holdover from Rajapaksa’s government. Protesters outside the president’s residence were chanting “Go home, Ranil” after his appointment last week.