COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president of Sri Lanka on Wednesday by lawmakers in Parliament, replacing Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was pushed out of office last week by protesters who blamed him for the country’s economic collapse.
Elected with an overwhelming majority of 134 out of 219 valid votes, he will take over a country in crisis.
Once a vibrant economy with a solid middle class, Sri Lanka, an island nation of 22 million people, has been decimated. Government mismanagement and poor policy decisions, compounded by the loss of vital tourism revenue during the pandemic and rising global prices, have essentially bankrupted the country. People spend days in line to buy fuel, while store shelves have been emptied of food and essential medicine.
As the situation has grown more dire in recent months, Sri Lankans had been calling for Mr. Rajapaksa, whose family had dominated politics in the country for nearly two decades, to resign. On July 9, demonstrations reached a boiling point, when protesters took over the presidential mansion. The president fled with his wife to the Maldives and then to Singapore, where he submitted his resignation by email. Mr. Wickremesinghe, who had been the prime minister, took over the reins.
Considered an ally of the Rajapaksa political dynasty, he has little support from a mass protest movement that is calling for change. On his first day as acting president, Mr. Wickremesinghe immediately declared a state of emergency, warning of “fascist” elements in the largely peaceful moment.
During the protests, his personal residence was burned down, and protesters occupied his office. At a sprawling oceanside tent camp that has served as the protesters’ organization hub, signs that read, “Gota, go” — referring to the former president — were quickly amended to say, “Ranil, go.”
Mr. Wickremesinghe was considered the front-runner in the election until late Tuesday, when the ruling party of the former president, which controls two-thirds of Parliament, split into two camps. A breakaway faction supported Mr. Wickremesinghe’s chief opponent, Dullas Alahapperuma, a former journalist who recently served as the information minister in the Rajapaksa government. The other camp supported Mr. Wickremesinghe.
All those present among the 225-member Parliament voted in a secret ballot to elect Mr. Wickremesinghe, who will finish Mr. Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.