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Sajith Premadasa: The Man Who Could Become the Next President of Sri Lanka

He is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, former PM and president, who was assassinated in an LTTE suicide bombing.

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Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

The current Leader of the Opposition of Sri Lanka and Member of Parliament for Colombo District, Sajith Premadasa announced his bid to run for president on Tuesday, 12 July.

The state of affairs in the country took a chaotic turn after protesters, on 9 July, stormed the residence of the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who after promising to resign, has fled the country. His resignation has still not been officially announced.

At his directions, the House Speaker appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had himself resigned as prime minister on the same day, as the acting president of Sri Lanka on 13 July.

The decision completely goes against the demands of the protesters. The second point of their six-point action read, "Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the Government including the Rajapkse regime must/should resign with immediate effect."

Should Ranil step down as acting president eventually, the parliament will have to elect a new president within 30 days. At the moment, Premadasa, leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), seems to be one of the favourites.

Talking about the prospects of Premadasa becoming the next president, Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy, a Junior Fellow with ORF's Strategic Studies Programme who focuses on South Asia, told The Quint, "He might do a fair job in bringing together the opposition and the independent MPs. The problem, however, is that protestors demand the dissolution of the parliament, which means even he might not enjoy complete legitimacy."

"Parliament is still dominated by SLPP and Rajapaksa loyalists. They will likely propose a favorable candidate from their own party. Given the situation even if he becomes a president - his action should be swift and tangible," Gowdara added.

So, who is Sajith Premadasa? What is his record in Sri Lankan politics?

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Son of an Ex-PM and Ex-President

Born into a prominent political family, Sajith Premadasa is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, who served as prime minister from 1977 to 1989, and president from 1989 to 1993, until he was assassinated in a suicide bombing, carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

He graduated from the London School of Economics and the University of London, and his studies covered economics, politics, and international relations.

His entry into Sri Lankan politics occurred after the killing of his father, joining his political party, the United National Party (which has been led by Ranil Wickremesinghe since 1994).

Premadasa's first major role in Sri Lankan politics was as district organiser of the UNP for Hambantota District, where he launched projects for combating crises related to poverty and housing.

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Political Career

Sajith contested and won the 2000 general election from Hambantota district. In 2001, he was made Deputy Health Minister in Ranil Wickremesinghe's Cabinet.

Premadasa was elected as the deputy leader of the United National Party in 2011 but left the post in 2013. Then he again became the party's deputy leader on 24 September 2014.

After the 2015 presidential election, he was appointed Minister of Housing and Samurdhi (prosperity) in the new cabinet formed in January 2015 by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.

In 2019, Premadasa was made the UNP's presidential candidate but was defeated by Gotabaya Rajapaksa who won 52.25 percent of the total votes. While Rajapaksa's support base mainly comprised predominant Sinhalese populations, Premadasa was more popular among the Tamils and the Muslims in Sri Lanka.

After his defeat, however, he resigned from ministerial portfolios and even quit the post of Deputy Leader of the United National Party.

Then, on 5 December 2019, he was nominated as the Leader of the Opposition and was officially confirmed by the Speaker on 3 January 2020. With this appointment, he was given a seat on the Constitutional Council.

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Leader of the SJB

In February 2020, Premadasa, with the approval of the UNP working committee, formed the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, to contest the 2020 parliamentary election in Sri Lanka. The election commission, in the same month, accepted the SJB as a legitimate political party.

Talking about the centre-left party with respect to the current crisis in Sri Lanka, Premadasa has said, "We are not going to hoodwink the people. We are going to be frank and present a plan to get rid of Sri Lanka's economic ills."

"What is actually happening right now, as far as we know at this moment, the president says he is resigning but he hasn't done so and has gone abroad. The PM is claiming to be the acting president on the basis of a statement made by the Speaker. I myself have not seen the written letter of the president appointing the prime minister as acting president. So, what you have is virtual anarchy. Anarchy is reigning," he told India Today on Wednesday, 13 July.

Sri Lanka is going through an economic meltdown of a scale unseen since the country's financial crisis of 1948. Prices of essential commodities like rice, milk, and oil have skyrocketed. Fuel supply is so scarce that the government had to suspend distribution for non-essential supplies.

The main cause is the shortage of foreign currency, which has led to a huge reduction in imports of essential items like petroleum, food, paper, sugar, lentils, medicines, and transportation equipment.

You can read The Quint's coverage of the crisis here.

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Topics:  Sri Lanka   Sri Lanka Crisis 

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