By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
COLOMBO (Worthy News) – There were fears Thursday of new unrest in Sri Lanka after Parliament elected Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new president of the bankrupt Buddhist-majority nation.
Wickremesinghe, 73, replaces his ally Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country when he was ousted last week by protesters blaming him for the country’s economic collapse.
“I thank parliament for this honor,” Wickremesinghe said after the secretary-general of the legislature announced his victory. He secured 134 votes in the 225-member house, while his main rival, ruling party lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma, got 82.
In his acceptance speech, Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka “is facing massive challenges” and that “we have to work on a new strategy to fulfill the people’s aspirations.” However, “Now, everyone must come together,” he added.
Commentators called his election remarkable as he ran unsuccessfully for president twice before. Yet his experience, including as a six-time prime minister, was seen as crucial to helping Sri Lanka out of the economic crisis.
While still prime minister, he had already negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and had a working relationship with crucial donor countries, including India.
But there were fears Thursday that Wickremesinghe’s election could lead to more protests. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets this month to express outrage at soaring inflation and shortages of affordable food, fuel, and other vital goods.
The troubles, including regular power blackouts, have been caused by massive corruption among the ruling elite, demonstrators said.
While many blamed the ousted president, Wickremesinghe also felt the full wrath of protesters last week when they burned down his private home. They also stormed his office in Colombo.
Yet Wickremesinghe urged political opponents to work with him “for the good of the country” while serving the rest of the presidential term until November 2024.
It wasn’t immediately clear what impact his election would have on minority Christians in the country.
They had reported persecution and attacks, including in 2019, when suicide bombers targeted churches and hotels. The Easter Sunday bombings more than three years ago
killed nearly 300 people, most of them Christians, rights investigators said.
During the current economic crisis, “Many believers and pastors in rural areas are struggling to provide for their families. Some families have had to cut down to one meal per day. In extreme cases, this only consists of a cup of tea,” added Christian charity Open Doors.
It quoted Pastor Hasika, who meets with 20 other Christians weekly, saying her husband is exhausted from queuing up for gas.
“Sometimes he goes to the petrol queue at 6 am and returns late in the evening with an empty can because they ran out of fuel,” she added.
“There were instances where my husband would stay in the petrol queue on Saturday so we could attend church on Sunday.”
The pastor, identified by one name amid security concerns, said it had become “extremely difficult” for her to visit the homes of new believers. “With the ongoing fuel crisis and shortage of public transport, traveling has become a major issue. There were instances where I had to walk nearly ten kilometers to visit certain families.”
Nearly eight percent of Sri Lanka’s mainly Buddhist population of 23 million are Christians, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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