Colombo: Sajith Premadasa, the United National Party (UNP) leader who lost to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the presidential election, was named on Thursday as the Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan Parliament.
Following a meeting of the party’s parliamentary group held on Thursday, the party leader and ex-prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to nominate Premadasa, 52, in his place.
Wickremesinghe, 70, would thus leave the job he had continuously held since 1994 barring short periods between 2001-2004 and 2015 to November this year, his two prime ministerial stints.
Premadasa lost to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the presidential election held on November 16.
The UNP leader resigned from the deputy leader’s position after the defeat and was thought to be considering quitting politics for good.
Wickremesinghe was under increasing pressure from the party to leave the job of leader with every election defeat since 1999.
The UNP’s young brigade forced Wickremesinghe’s hands to nominate Premadasa to challenge Gotabaya Rajapaksa and now they have succeeded in doing so, forcing Wickremesinghe to make way for Premadasa as the main opposition leader.
There was no immediate information if Wickemesinghe would also quit the UNP leadership ahead of the next parliamentary election which should happen after February next year.
Wickremesinghe’s stepping down as the prime minister despite still having majority in the 225 member assembly made possible the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister.
He heads the current caretaker Cabinet under his younger brother’s presidency leading to the next parliamentary election.
Under the country’s Constitution, the prime minister can be removed only through a vote of no confidence, his resignation or him being unseated from parliament.
The presidential powers were curbed in 2015 and the president can no longer appoint ministers or remove them without the consent of the prime minister.
The next parliamentary election is not due until August of next year, yet the president will have the option to dismiss parliament and call a snap parliamentary election after February next year.