Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Ranil sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new president

Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Thursday sworn in as Sri Lanka’s eighth president and will face the tough task of leading the country out of its unprecedented economic crisis and restoring order after months of mass anti-government protests.
Wickremesinghe, 73, was sworn in as the 8th Executive President of Sri Lanka at the Parliament complex before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya. The three military commanders and Parliamentary speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena were also present during the ceremony.
Wickremesinghe, who took over as the Acting President after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapksa fled the country and resigned last week, is the first Sri Lankan president to be elected by Parliament following a vote.
Late D B Wijetunga was elected uncontested in May 1993 after the demise of R Premadasa who was the then President.
Wickremesinghe, a six-time former prime minister, was elected as Sri Lanka’s President by lawmakers on Wednesday, in a rare move that could provide continuity for crucial discussions with the IMF for a bailout deal for the cash-strapped nation.
He secured 134 votes in the 225-member House while his nearest rival and dissident ruling party leader Dullas Alahapperuma got 82. Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake secured just three votes.
He faces the task of leading the country out of its economic collapse and restoring order after months of mass protests.
A Cabinet of 20-25 members will be appointed within the next few days to serve under President Wickremesinghe, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.
Wickremesinghe’s comfortable victory with the backing of the Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party showed the Rajapaksa family’s firm grip on Sri Lankan politics despite the resignations of President Rajapaksa, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa in recent weeks in the face of massive anti-government protests.
Wickremesinghe’s victory could inflame the situation once again as many anti-government protesters see him as inextricably tied to the erstwhile Rajapaksa regime, blamed for the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
A few hundred protesters quickly gathered after Wickremesinghe was elected as president to express their outrage as they see him as part of the problematic political establishment.
Wickremesinghe, who has been leading the crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), last week said that negotiations were nearing conclusion.
Sri Lanka needs about USD 5 billion in the next six months to cover basic necessities for its 22 million people, who have been struggling with long queues, worsening shortages and power cuts.
Sri Lankans had been calling for months for Rajapaksa, whose family had dominated politics in the country for much of the past two decades, to resign.
After demonstrators stormed the presidential palace and several other government buildings, President Rajapaksa fled and then resigned.
Wickremesinghe will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.
It was 45 years ago on July 21, 1977 that Wickremesinghe contested an election to enter Parliament for the first time.
Wickremesinghe, who has been in Parliament for nearly five decades, was appointed as prime minister in May, nearly two years after his United National Party (UNP) was routed and failed to win a single seat in the general election held in 2020.
Widely accepted in political circles as a man who could manage the economy with far-sighted policies, Wickremesinghe is struggling to fix the economy which, he said, had collapsed at the time of his appointment in May.
Wickremesinghe, who is believed to be close to India and its leaders, has held many important posts during his career.
His immediate challenge, along with trying to ensure a steady supply of food and fuel, is to convince the protesters to give him a chance.
Wickremesinghe represented parliament continuously from 1977 until August 2020 when he failed to enter Parliament from the Colombo district.
He made a return to Parliament in June 2021.
Wickremesinghe was unlucky with his attempts at the presidency. In 1999, he lost to Chandrika Kumaratunga in a close contest. A suicide bombing attempt by the LTTE separatists on Kumaratunga caused a wave of sympathy for her, destroying Wickremesinghe’s chances.
In 2005, he narrowly lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa due to an LTTE-led vote boycott among the Tamils.
Wickremesinghe has pledged to develop bipartisanship in his immediate task to tackle the economic hardships caused by the meltdown.
He has at all times maintained a good relationship with India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sri Lanka twice during Wickremesinghe’s premiership from 2015-19.


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