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Ranil Wickremesinghe Sworn In As New Sri Lanka PM

The 73-year-old United National Party (UNP) leader, who has just one seat in the 225-member Parliament, held talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday.

File: Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Katunayake, Sri Lanka. (ANI/REUTERS Photo)

New Delhi: Sri Lanka’s former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the next premier on Thursday evening as the witnesses the worst economic crisis. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa administered the oath and office and secrecy to Wickremesinghe.

The 73-year-old United National Party (UNP) leader, who has just one seat in the 225-member Parliament, held talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday.

Wickremesinghe, who has served as the country’s prime minister for four times, was in October 2018 fired from the post of prime minister by then President Maithripala Sirisena. However, he was reinstalled as the prime minister by Sirisena after two months.

Wickremesinghe has the cross party backing to head the interim administration which is meant to last six months, PTI cited its sources as saying. Members of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a section of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and several other parties have expressed their support to show majority for Wickremesinghe in Parliament, they said.

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UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena has expressed confidence that Wickremesinghe will be able to secure a majority in Parliament after being sworn in as the next Prime Minister, replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday.

In 2020 parliamentary polls, UNP, the oldest party in the country, had failed to win a single seat from districts, including Wickremesinghe who contested from the UNP stronghold Colombo. He later found his way to Parliament through the sole national list allocated to the UNP on the basis of cumulative national vote. His deputy Sajith Premadasa had led the breakaway SJB and became the main Opposition.

Wickremesinghe is largely regarded as a far-sighted politician, who would be capable of managing the economic crisis and command international cooperation.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a late-night televised address to the nation on Wednesday, promised the country a new prime minister and a young Cabinet this week. He, himself, refused to quit as the President despite public demands, but assured the nation that the new Cabinet would introduce key constitutional reforms to curb his powers.

The country has been witnessing violent protests over the economic crisis and has also seen Gotabaya’s elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa get ousted. Mahinda is currently under protection at a naval base following violent attacks on his aides.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.

Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9 seeking the resignation of the Rajapaksa brothers.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said on Thursday that he would accept President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s invitation to form a new government if he agrees to some conditions, including his resignation within a stipulated time period.

“One of the conditions put forward by Sajith Premadasa is that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented with the support of all political parties within two weeks. Further, President Gotabaya must resign within a stipulated time period,” local media reported, citing the content of the letter.

The third condition is that the President should work together with all the political parties to work towards abolishing the Executive Presidency via the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

The fourth condition is that the President must call for Parliamentary Elections to give the people an opportunity to elect a new stable government, following the implementation of the aforementioned constitutional reforms, establishing the rule of law, and returning the people’s lives to normalcy.

Premadasa said that he has a sustainable programme to control the fall of the economy and for the implementation of the constitutional reforms.

(With PTI inputs)