Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Wednesday elected as the president of Sri Lanka following a vote in the country’s Parliament, Newswire reported.

The voting became necessary after former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned from the post last week amid the island nation’s worst-ever economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in as the prime minister in May, had announced his resignation from the post on July 9, but he did not officially quit. Instead, he was made the acting president after Rajapaksa fled.

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe received votes from 134 MPs of the 225-member House. Two MPs abstained from voting and the votes of four legislators were rejected.

Wickremesinghe was up against the Opposition-backed candidate Dullas Alahapperuma and Marxist party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in a three-way contest.

Sajith Premadasa, who was earlier backed by the Opposition parties as their candidate, withdrew from the race on Tuesday morning saying it was for the “greater good” of the country.

Later on Tuesday, he urged India to help Sri Lanka regardless of whoever takes charge after the voting.

“It is my humble and earnest request to hon PM Shri @narendramodi, to all the political parties of India and to the people of India to keep helping mother Lanka and it’s people to come out of this disaster,” Premadasa said in a tweet.

His decision to withdraw from the race has made the elections to replace Rajapaksa a close contest.

Premadasa said his party Samagi Jana Balawegaya would support Alahapperuma. A former education minister, Alahapperuma is a senior MP from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna that is controlled by the Rajapaksas’.

He was among the Cabinet members who had quit en masse after protests over the economic meltdown began in April.

Wickremesinghe, 73, is a six-time prime minister who has never served a full term. He is backed by the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, which remains the largest party in the 225-member Parliament.

Though, protestors angered by the economic crisis had opposed his bid to contest. Reports say his victory could lead to more demonstrations in the country.

Dissanayake of the leftist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna is unlikely to be a challenger since his party and allies have only three seats in Parliament, Reuters reported.

In 1993, Sri Lanka had last elected its president through Parliament, according to The Hindu. The MPs unanimously chose DB Wijetunga to finish the tenure of assassinated president Ranasinghe Premadasa.

The new leader from Wednesday’s vote will be in office to complete Rajapaksa’s term, scheduled to end in 2024.

The economic crisis

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, has run out of foreign exchange reserves limiting essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. The island nation’s inflation rate touched 54.6% year-over-year in June while food inflation shot up to 80%.

The residents blame the Rajapaksas’ seven from the family were in the government as of April for the situation.

The economic meltdown led to Sri Lanka defaulting on its $51-billion foreign debt in April. The country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.

The United Nations has warned that more than a quarter of Sri Lankans are at risk of food shortages. Sri Lanka Medical Council has stated that hospitals were running with minimum resources as the country imports more than 80% of its medical supplies. The top medical body also warned that it would not be able to handle any mass casualties due to the protests.

Also read:

  1. The India Fix: What can India learn from Sri Lanka’s stunning collapse under the Rajapaksas?
  2. With the Rajapaksas on the run, a brief history of how Sri Lanka got into this mess