The all-important Presidency will come up for a secret ballot today morning in Parliament with a close fight expected among the top two contenders in the three-cornered battle.
When nominations were called in yesterday in Parliament, Prime Minister and Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe was proposed by SLPP MP Dinesh Gunawardena who is tipped to be Prime Minister candidate and seconded by Manusha Nanayakkara. SLPP independent group MP Dullas Alahapperuma was proposed by SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and seconded by G.L. Peiris. This was after Premadasa withdrew from the race claiming it was for the greater good of the country and the people. He said SJB, alliance and opposition partners will work hard towards making Dullas victorious. Premadasa hopes to be the Prime Minister if Dullas wins.
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was proposed by Vijitha Herath and seconded by Dr. Harini Amarasuriya.
A close fight between veteran Wickremesinghe, who is backed by the majority of SLPP MPs among others and under-dog Dullas, is expected at the vote which begins at 10 a.m.
SLFP with nine MPs last night formally announced its support to Dullas, a decision made with the backing of leader and former President Maithripala Sirisena and General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekara and the Central Working Committee.
The 10-member TNA also pledged support to Dullas whilst its MPs held a joint meeting with him and Premadasa.
Separately former Government MPs but now independent Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prof. Tissa Vitarana, Athuraliye Rathana Thero, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Asanka Nawarathne, Gevindu Kumaratunga and others also pledged support to Dullas. This twin move was a major breakthrough for Dullas, according to political analysts.
Among other parties to announce support were Sri Lanka Muslim Congress-led by Rauff Hakeem and Mano Ganesan-led Tamil Progressive Alliance.
There are 225 MPs and individual camps were upbeat of victory for their respective candidates. Pro-Wickremesinghe camp was said to be referring to 150-170 votes in favour whilst the Dullas camp reference was over 140 winning votes.
Wickremesinghe on Monday night had met with around 100 SLPP MPs and sources in his camp claimed that they have managed to garner additional support from dissidents within SJB as well as other independent groups of MPs.
It was claimed that the decision by Premadasa to withdraw from the race had irked some members including Presidential aspirant Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
Despite die-hard SJBers terming Sajith decision as tactical to rally more support to Dullas as a common candidate from like-minded Opposition MPs, some ridiculed the leader’s withdrawal as amateurish and signalled the beginning of the end of his political career.
Despite confidence in each camp, eleventh hour negotiations were continuing to garner more support especially among those who are undecided.
Political analysts however pointed to the secret ballot factor for the difficulty in making any clear predictions and dismissed reference numbers cited by individual camps.
Aragalaya activists at a media conference issued a warning against electing Acting President Wickremesinghe to serve the remainder of the ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term. Their stand was that the people’s struggle was to oust corrupt Rajapaksa regime and with Wickremesinghe agreeing to serve as Prime Minister in May colluded with and gave protection to the Rajapaksas and their loyalists. They insisted that their demand of a truly All-Party temporary caretaker Government was critical to resolve immense hardships faced by the people.
The previously announced National Day of Protest on Tuesday demanding the withdrawal of Wickremesinghe from the Presidential race was not successful though some of the activists, trade union leaders and citizens did take part in a rally from Fort Railway station to GotaGoGama yesterday.