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Sri Lanka to witness three-way contest for presidency

Sri Lanka will witness a three-cornered race for presidency on Wednesday, as the island awaits a new leader and government after an astounding people’s uprising ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the formerly Rajapaksa-aligned, and now independent Dullas Alahapperuma, and the leftist Anura Kumara Dissanayake were on Tuesday nominated by parties in parliament, a day ahead of the poll through a secret ballot.

Although Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa had earlier announced he would contest, he withdrew his bid Tuesday morning. “For the greater good of my country that I love and the people I cherish I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the position of President. @sjbsrilanka [Samagi Jana Balawegaya or United People’s Power] and our alliance and our opposition partners will work hard towards making @DullasOfficial victorious,” he said in a tweet, pledging support for Mr. Alahapperuma.

The Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna [SLPP or People’s Front] dominates the legislature with well over 100 seats. But, some of its legislators have, more recently, been sitting “independently” in the House, apparently distancing themselves from the Rajapaksa clan and their party, widely discredited during Sri Lanka’s devastating economic crisis.

The party appears divided on its preferred presidential candidate as Mr. Gotabaya’s successor. Its general secretary Sagara Kariyawasam recently announced that the SLPP would back Acting President Mr. Wickremesinghe, while chairman and staunch Rajapaksa loyalist G.L. Peiris has pledged support for Mr. Alahapperuma, who was earlier with the Rajapaksa camp.

The SJB currently has around 50 seats in the 225-member House, following recent defections of some of its members. The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with 10 members in Parliament, is yet to announce its stance. Mr. Dissanayake’s Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna [JVP] has three seats.

With the SLPP still holding majority in the House, all presidential aspirants would need the support of some of its members to win the vote. Wednesday’s outcome would depend on how the independent lawmakers vote, and the extent of the split in the SLPP.

For six-time Premier and Acting President Mr. Wickremesinghe, this is arguably the closest he has been to clinching presidency. However, with Mr. Premadasa pulling out of the race and throwing his weight behind Mr. Alahapperuma, the contest may have just got harder for him.

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