Sri Lankan lawmakers voted in parliament on Wednesday to choose the next president from three contenders amid tight security, hoping the new leader would pull the island out of a crippling economic and political crisis.
A win for acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, one of the main two contenders but opposed by many ordinary Sri Lankans, could lead to more demonstrations by people furious with the ruling elite after months of severe shortages of fuel, food and medicines, several protesters have said.
The other main candidate, ruling party lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma, is more acceptable to the protesters and the opposition but does not have any top-level governance experience in a country with barely any dollars for imports and desperately in need of an IMF bailout.
“We are here to send our good vibes to the lawmakers so that they can do the right thing, elect the right president so that we can come out of this problem,” said Namal Jayaweera, one of several dozen people sitting on the steps of the presidential secretariat, awaiting the result.
Hundreds of police, paramilitary and military troops were deployed around the parliament building, about 13km (8 miles) away, and an approach road had at least three barricades. Security personnel in speed boats patrolled a lake around the building, and military jeeps and armoured vehicles stood parked within the perimeter.
Protesters occupied the presidential secretariat earlier this month along with the official president's residence, forcing the then incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country.
Many protesters see Wickremesinghe as an ally of the Rajapaksa family, and his private house and office were also stormed by people demanding his ouster.
Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, became acting president last week after Rajapaksa fled on a military plane to the Maldives and then took a commercial flight to Singapore.
Two of Rajapaksa's brothers, including former prime minister and president Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as a nephew were in attendance as the 225-member parliament gathered for the vote. The process is expected to take hours before a winner is declared.
There is a third candidate in the contest — Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, the leader of the leftist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna party. But his party commands only three seats in the 225-member parliament and he has no realistic chance of winning.