‘He’s not our president’: Protesters reject Sri Lanka’s new leader | News about protests

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Anti-government protesters have returned to the streets of the Sri Lankan capital and say they will continue the week-long uprising after parliament elected acting leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to do new president.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the GotaGoGama site in Colombo on Wednesday, where just last week they celebrated the Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign as president.

In front of crowds, protest leaders refused to accept six-time Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, 73, as the new head of state, arguing that he was partly responsible for the economic and political crisis unprecedented in the country.

“As you know, today parliament elected a new president, but that chairman is not new for us, it is not the duty of the people,” said Wasantha Mudalige, leader of the Union Inter University Student Union, told the crowd.

“We eliminated Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won 6.9 million votes, but Ranil Wickremesinghe has now won that seat from the backseat,” he added. “Ranil is not our president… the people’s duty is on the streets.”

The protesters also accused Wickremesinghe of making deals with the powerful Rajapaksa’s family to overcome political opponents. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s appointment of Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May and president after he fled in July further angered protesters, who want the country’s ruling elite to leave.

Protesters burned Wickremesinghe’s private home and occupied his office during protests last week.

At Wednesday’s rally, speaker after speaker – including Buddhist monks, Catholic clergy, students and artists – refused to endorse the congressional choice.

“Ranil Wickremesinghe should know that the millions on the street are much bigger than 134,” said artist Jagath Manuwarna, referring to the 134 lawmakers who voted for Wickremesinghe.

While celebratory firecrackers were heard in some parts of the country last week when Sri Lankans heard that Rajapaksa had resigned days after he left the country, there were no celebrations to welcome his appointment. Wickremesinghe’s mission, only dozens of his supporters were seen celebrating in the streets.

Many Sri Lankan protesters are also unimpressed with Wickremesinghe’s main opponent in today’s election, Dullas Alahapperuma, as he has no experience of running in a heavily indebted country hungry for a bailout of International Monetary Fund.

Sri Lankans have been protesting for weeks amid economic depression that has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and increasingly unable to pay for food, fuel and medicine.


‘No political basis’

Feeling betrayed by parliament, the youth-led protest movement is now regrouping and rethinking its strategy, according to Melani Gunathilake, a leading protester.

“We know very well that Ranil Wickremesinghe is not like Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is a more cunning person,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Recently he even tried to suppress the protest by impose a state of emergency and send air force helicopters via GotaGoGama. But I don’t think people will be intimidated by these actions anymore. Sri Lanka deserves a leader who truly cares about their people, not someone thinking about his political future.”

But one analyst, who did not wish to be identified, told Al Jazeera “the protests may not be sustainable”, as many protesters in Colombo and other urban areas are middle class and have may be less likely to continue protesting if their documentation improves under Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe is expected to be sworn in as Sri Lanka’s president on Thursday morning, with his presidency set to run until 2024.

As soon as he became president, the post of prime minister was vacated and the cabinet of ministers was dissolved. Wickremesinghe will also resign as a member of parliament.

His immediate focus is on finding a suitable candidate for prime minister in the new administration.

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe urged political opponents to put aside their divisions and work together to tackle months of severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

“Now that the election is over, we must end this division,” he said.

Speaking to the media shortly after Wickremesinghe’s election, Minister Harin Fernando hinted that the president would try to form a national government alongside many other parties.

Shehan Malaka Gamage, a protest leader who campaigned for justice for the victims of 2019 Attacks on Easter SundayWickremesinghe said it is more likely to give in to the protesters because there is no solid basis.

“Unlike previous years… he has executive power but no solid political base. Therefore, in my opinion, he is a very weak leader,” Gamage told Al Jazeera.

“If the protesters can challenge [the] Almighty Rajapaksas, he knew it was not difficult for the masses to rise up against him. He knows he is not elected by the people. This is not his comfort zone. And I don’t think this is a defeat in our struggle. We won our fight. “

She said that if he brought reforms and relief to the masses, Wickremesinghe could defuse the unrest and buy time for himself.

“Our next pick [to remove him] will be the next election,” Gamage said.

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