Sri Lanka’s main opposition leader, Sajith Premadasa, has withdrawn from the presidential race and thrown his support behind a rival candidate, presenting a significant challenge to prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid for the executive role.
In an announcement made on Tuesday morning, Premadasa said that “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”.
Premadasa instead pledged his support for Dullas Alahapperuma, the candidate from a breakaway group of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP).
The decision to withdraw from the presidential race is believed to be driven in part by the tough political future that any president who takes on the role now faces. The new government, which is proposed to be a cross-party unity government, is likely to only last six to eight months until the country can afford to go to parliamentary elections. Presidential elections are not due till November 2024.
Premadasa’s support brings with it all the votes from his opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party. It significantly improves Alahapperuma’s chances of beating Wickremesinghe, the prime minister and acting president who will run as the SLPP’s official candidate in the secret ballot, which takes place in parliament on Wednesday.
It will now be a three-way vote between Alahapperuma, Wickremesinghe and leftist leader Anura Dissanayake, who were all formally nominated by legislators in a brief parliamentary session on Tuesday morning.
Both Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma are considered controversial presidential candidates by the public, due to their close association to former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to flee the country and step down last week after mass protests.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES