New Delhi: With Sri Lanka’s economic crisis boiling over to violent, deadly clashes on ground, former four-time premier Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Thursday appointed as the Prime Minister of the embattled country. After Mahinda Rajapaksa was ousted from power, it is the United National Party’s 73-year-old Wickremesinghe who will have to see to the island nation’s peaceful recovery.
Wickremesinghe on May 12 took oath of the office for his fifth stint as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He is now faced with a two-pronged challenge to lead the country to recovery from the unprecedented economic distress and also invoke the people’s faith in the government.
His previous stint in the office did not go too smoothly as, in 2018, he was unceremoniously removed by then President Maithripala Sirisena, who appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister. Wickremesinghe was eventually reinstated following a constitutional crisis as he approached the Supreme Court.
On May 9 this year, Mahinda was forced to resign as protests grew louder and stronger against the Rajapaksas and what the people call “mismanagement” of the country that led to the current economic crisis. Sri Lanka also witnessed violent unrest following clashes between pro and anti-government protestors, resulting in eight deaths, over 200 injuries, and arson attacks against political leaders’ properties.
The decision to bring in Wickremesinghe comes after the country’s Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party said he would not take the prime minister’s role in the interim government under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The latter’s resignation is being demanded vehemently by protestors but Gotabaya remains undeterred.
Gotabaya, in a post on Twitter a few hours before the announcement of Wickremesinghe’s appointment as the next Prime Minister on May 12, wrote about the steps which would be taken to form a new government “to prevent the country falling into anarchy & to maintain the affairs of the state that have come to a halt.”
It included bringing in of a new prime minister within the week and even amending the constitution. “A PM who commands majority in Parliament & is able to secure the confidence of the people will be appointed within this week”…“steps will be taken to amend the constitution to re-enact the contents of the 19th Amendment to further empower the Parliament,” he wrote.
“Calls from various factions for the abolition of the executive presidency will be considered. With the new government & their potential to stabilize the country, we will have an opportunity to discuss this & work towards a common consensus,” said Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
While with Sajith Premadasa, who would have been the natural choice being the leader of opposition, it didn’t quite play out that way. Son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sajith had become the leader of the newly formed SJB in 2020. Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed along with 17 others on May 1, 1993, during United National Party’s May Day rally in Colombo, by a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber.
Sajith had become the leader of SJB in 2020 with the approval from the working committee of the UNP. The alliance included Jathika Hela Urumaya, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Tamil Progressive Alliance, and in the elections that same year pitted Sajith Premadasa as the prime minister, winning 54 seats, becoming the main opposition.
However, it is Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose UNP won just one seat in the 2020 election, who took charge as the Prime Minister.