Will Sajith Premadasa be the next leader of Sri Lanka?

Will Sajith Premadasa be the next leader of Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is imploding and a solution to the political and financial crisis does not seem in sight. The financial distress can only be addressed once the political turmoil is under control. The lack of trust in the current leadership is evident from the swell of protests in the streets of Colombo against the Rajapaksas, Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Speaker. But, despite the problems, the legislative machinery has not completely broken down.

According to procedure, once President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigns, the prime minister will be appointed ‘acting President’ till the time the Parliament votes to elect a new President.

Who all are in the fray?

There are three candidates who are in the fray to become the next prime minister:

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who will be the acting President, came back as the prime minister after Mahinda Rajapaksa quit and fled Colombo owing to the financial crisis.

But Dullas Daham Kumara Alahapperuma is the choice of the governing alliance. An MP from Matara district and information minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, he is known to be close to the Rajapaksa family. The ruling alliance continues to have the highest numbers although they don’t make the halfway mark of 113 in the House of 225.

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They would still have 103 MPs (including the Rajapaksas) as 43 MPs are now forming a breakaway faction of ‘independent MPs’.

Sajith Premadasa of the SJB alliance has 53 MPs. If he can garner the support of the 43 breakaway MPs, 3 of the JVB and 10 of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) then he stands a chance to become the next leader of the troubled nation.

The parliamentary vote to elect the next President is likely to be held on July 20 and is going to be a secret ballot without a whip. There could be massive cross voting.

Who is Sajith Premadasa

Sajith Premadasa, a former member of Wickremesinghe’s UNP and now head of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) alliance has thrown his hat in the ring. In an interview to a media network in Sri Lanka he said that he would only pitch for presidency after Gotabaya’s resignation.

He is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa who served as the prime minister from 1978 to 1988 and as President from 1989 to 1993 of Sri Lanka. Ranasinghe was assassinated by the LTTE on May 1 1993.

Sajith Premadasa had an early start in politics. Belonging to a political family, he was the leader of the United National Party from Hambantota and became an MP for the first time in the year 2000.

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He is the only leader who is not tainted by the governance of the past and has been bold with policy positions. Sajith was one of the first leaders to call for the abolition of the presidential form of government. He has also been an advocate of inclusive politics. He stood against racism and alienation of minorities.

In fact, he has said in the past that the country’s major challenge of security comes from alienation of minorities. This position of his could get him the needed Tamil support during voting.

Protesters angry over power blackouts, shortages of basic goods and rising prices have long demanded that Rajapaksa steps down, but the retired military officer had resisted the demands for months, invoking emergency powers in an attempt to maintain control. But in recent days, protesters entered the presidential palace, set the PM’s residence on fire and forced President Rajapaksa to flee the country.

The crisis gripping the island nation comes amid negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a rescue plan, as well as proposals to restructure its sovereign debt, both of which could be thrown into disarray.

Sri Lanka’s problems have been social and he has eschewed the politics of division. While numbers don’t favour Sajith Premadasa as of now and he may or may not be able to swing the numbers in the upcoming voting for President, he certainly is the biggest face for the country and can play a key role in bringing the country out of this crisis.

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