South Asia

‘Start of the Marathon’: Sri Lanka Protestors Glum but Undeterred After Ranil's Election

Activists slammed the "greedy and self-serving politicians" who voted for the new president, who is seen as close to the Rajapaksa clan.

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Colombo: Gloom and frustration hit Colombo’s protestors on Wednesday, shortly after the Sri Lankan Parliament voted Ranil Wickremesinghe as the next president. But they vowed to keep up their movement. The #GoGotaGo campaign, which ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa from power, had set its sights on also booting out acting president Wickramasinghe, but it failed.

Wickramasinghe, received 134 votes from parliamentarians, while Dullas Alahaperuma, a dissenting member of Rajapaksa’s party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, got 82 votes, and Leftist candidate Anurakumara Dossanayake finished with just three votes.

Vraie Cally Balthazaar, 37, an activist and researcher who addressed a disappointed crowd following the results, said that 134 “greedy and self-serving politicians who no longer represent us”, had helped Wickremesinghe take power.

“People want something different but parliament wants something different for themselves,” she said. “Today has been a very frustrating day, to say the least. We have been here for 103 days. We have been talking about what this struggle may lead to and today this is where we are at,” she continued. “The question now is, do we accept this? No.”

Posters says ‘Go Home Ranil’ after Wickremesinghe was elected as Sri Lanka’s President, in Colombo, July 20, 2022. Photo: Bhavya Dore

Alongside Balthazaar, a series of speakers – including various religious leaders – spoke in a mix of English, Sinhala and Tamil. Campaigners vowed to keep up the struggle, or the Aragalaya movement, which began on April 9.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister who took over as interim leader after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country last week, is seen to be close to the Rajapaksa clan. “Parliament and other parties have cheated our citizens,” said Amila Egodamahawatta, 39, a lawyer. “He does not have the people’s support.”

The Presidential Secretariat, the only building that protestors continue to occupy, was quiet in the immediate hours following the results. Campaigners gathered there after 3:30 pm to give rousing speeches, denounce the new president and mark a new phase of the movement.

Also Read: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Secretariat Is Now a Buzzing Library Overseen by Protestors

“He tried to label us as fascists. He has engaged in dirty warfare,” said Harinda Fonseka, 37, a member of the movement. “But we are peace-loving, non-violent protestors. This is just the beginning of the marathon, we are undeterred.”

Bands of activists quickly turned out “Go Home Ranil” headbands, and by evening two artists had sketched a series of anti-Wickremesinghe posters that were taped to the secretariat’s pillars. The sketches effectively summed up the sentiment: Wickremesinghe is seen as a cunning deal-maker and unscrupulous politician, no different from the odious Rajapaksas.

Protestors at Sri Lanka’s Presidential Secretary in Colombo, July 20, 2022. Photo: Bhavya Dore

“I am not in a mood to speak,” said Visaka Jayaweer, 54, a theatre artist who has been protesting since the start. “We have to think of what our next move will be. It is like a chess game. They have made their move, now it is our turn.”

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Bhavya Dore is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.