Sri Lanka’s Parliament to elect President in three-way contest today

Sri Lanka’s parliament will vote today to elect a new president to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned last week after months of demonstrations over an unprecedented economic crisis.

The election will be a three-way contest while whoever is elected by parliament will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Mr Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.

Last week (14) the former President had sent his resignation letter to the Speaker. Accordingly, the Parliament was summoned on 16th and the Secretary General of the Parliament announced to the House that the office of the President has become vacant. 

Also, he announced that nominations will be accepted from the Members of Parliament to fill the vacancy. 

Accordingly, the names of three Members of Parliament were proposed and seconded in the Parliament yesterday (19) for the vacancy of the Presidency.

Accordingly, the names of Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma and NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake were proposed.

Dullas Alahapperuma’s name was proposed by the Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa and Minister (Prof.) G.L. Peiris seconded it. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by the Leader of the House and Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Minister Manusha Nanayakkara seconded it. 

Also, Anura Kumara Dissanayake was proposed by MP Vijitha Herath and MP (Dr.) Harini Amarasuriya seconded it. 

Subsequently, the Secretary General of Parliament Mr. Dhammika Dasanayake had announced that the nominations of these three candidates were accepted for Succeeding President in accordance with the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No. 2 of 1981.

Thus, one of these three MPs is to be elected as the Succeeding President by the votes of the Members of Parliament, today (20).

Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, a six-time former prime minister who became acting president after his predecessor resigned, has the backing of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the largest bloc in the 225-member parliament, for today’s secret ballot.

His main opponent in the vote will be SLPP dissident and former education minister Dullas Alahapperuma, a former journalist who is being supported by the opposition. Alahapperuma pledged this week to form “an actual consensual government for the first time in our history”.

The third candidate is Anura Dissanayake, 53, leader of the National People’s Power (NPP), whose coalition has three parliamentary seats.

Opposition Leader and leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Sajith Premadasa, who was also expected to contest for the presidency withdrew from the race before nominations were presented and threw his backing to Mr. Alahapperuma. 

He announced that the SJB and their alliance and opposition partners will work towards ensuring victory to Dullas Alahapperuma.  Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) led by Mano Ganesan have also decided to back MP Alahapperuma.

Meanwhile the Central Committee of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) yesterday also decided to back presidential hopeful SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma in the parliamentary vote.

The ‘Union of Independent Parties’ led by MPs Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara also decided to back SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma in the election. Weerawansa said the group of 16 MPs will use their votes for the victory of candidate Dullas Alahapperuma.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the country’s largest Tamil party, says it will also back presidential hopeful Dullas Alahapperuma in the parliamentary vote.

MP Jeevan Thondaman meanwhile said that the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC), after much deliberation, has decided to support Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his bid for presidency. 

Meanwhile Minister and SJB MP Harin Fernando says that a section of SJB, TNA and SLFP parliamentarians will vote in favour of Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe in today’s vote to elect a new President, despite those parties deciding to support MP Dullas Alahapperuma. 

However, SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) will vote for MP Dullas Alahapperuma in the parliamentary vote as decided yesterday.

The parliamentary session is scheduled to commence at 10.00 a.m. this morning (20) while the Secretary General of Parliament Mr. Dhammika Dasanayake will serve as the Returning Officer of the secret ballot to be held thereafter. 

This is the first time in the country’s history that parliametn will vote to elect a successor president. 

In 1993, given the demise of the former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga was elected for the remainder of the term of President unanimously, without a poll as the succeeding President.

But this time, as their are several candidates, a poll will have to be held. Accordingly, it will be marked as a new experience in the parliamentary history of this country.

If the office of the President becomes vacant before the end of his term in office, the procedure for electing a new president by Parliament is provided in the Constitution and the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act (No. 2 of 1981).

How will the voting be conducted?

Before voting begins, the Returning Officer shall show the empty ballot box or empty ballot boxes to the MPs and seal them.

It is special that the Speaker also has the right to vote in this election.

Thus, when the voting starts, the name of each MP including the Speaker and the Secretary General who acts as the Returning Officer will be called. Then the member should go to the returning officer’s desk and get a ballot paper. Then the member in charge of the polling officer will make a short signature with his initials on the back of the ballot paper.

After that, the member who got the ballot paper should go to the booth arranged in the middle of the chamber, mark the ballot paper and place the short signature of the Returning Officer in a visible place in the box on the Returning Officer’s desk.

How to mark the ballot paper?

Each MP is entitled to only one vote and the vote should be marked with the number “1” in the box in front of the candidate’s name. There is also an option to mark preferences when there are multiple candidates. Accordingly, according to the number of candidates who have appeared, in the boxes in front of the names of other election candidates, 2, 3 etc. can be marked according to the order of preferences.

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