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Ranil Wickremesinghe returns as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister


Ranil Wickremesinghe is the sole parliamentary representative of the United National Party.

Colombo, Sri Lanka:

Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s prime minister for the sixth time on Thursday, although the veteran politician has never completed a full term.

The 73-year-old’s political career seemed to come to an end before this week, when he agreed to lead a unity administration and help steer the South Asian island nation through a crippling economic crisis.

“This is a historic event,” Tamil lawmaker Dharmalingam Sithadthan told AFP, referring to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent return to headquarters.

“It shows the desperate situation in our country.”

Ranil Wickremesinghe is the sole parliamentary representative of the United National Party, a once powerful political force that was almost wiped out in Sri Lanka’s last elections.

The former lawyer comes from a political family and his uncle Junius Jayewardene has served as president for more than a decade.

But Ranil Wickremesinghe once told AFP he would probably have pursued a career as a journalist if the government of the day had not nationalized his family’s newspaper business in 1973.

He was first appointed prime minister in 1993 following the assassination of then-President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was killed in a bomb attack by Tamil Tiger guerrillas during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war.

Ranasinghe Premadasa’s son Sajith, who underlines the dynastic nature of Sri Lanka’s politics, is the current opposition leader and was also nominated as a possible prime ministerial candidate this week.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s first term lasted a little over a year.

He returned to power in 2001 and gained a reputation for sound economic governance after leading the country out of recession.

Conflict with the president led to his dismissal before his term ended, and he spent the next decade in the political wilderness.

‘Record loser’

Ranil Wickremasinghe lost two presidential contests and led his party to a series of election defeats, which even prompted his own supporters to call him a “record loser”.

He was nevertheless sworn in as prime minister again in 2015 after the election defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the opposition rallied as a unitary candidate against the authoritarian leader behind him.

His “Mr Clean” image was clouded later that year when his administration was shaken by an insider trading scam with central banking effects.

A key accused in the multi-million dollar scam was the then central bank chief, Arjuna Mahendran, who was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s schoolmate and choice for the post.

He was accused during his tenure of friendship members and failed to prosecute members of the previous Rajapaksa regime, whose members have been accused of grafting, kickbacks and cutting off state finances.

Political conflict with the powerful Rajapaksa family also plunged the country into a crisis in 2018, with Mahinda taking over the premiership for six weeks before the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

Ranil Wickremesinghe returns to office to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government protesters and were later rescued from his home by the military.

He will serve to the delight of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s younger brother, who has fought calls for his own resignation over the government’s mismanagement of the economic crisis.

Ranil Wickremesinghe will take control of a bankrupt nation that is in default of its $ 51 billion foreign debt and without money to import essential goods.

Its status as a pro-Western, free market reformer could smooth rescue negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors.

But he has already warned that there will be no quick fix to the country’s unprecedented economic problems.

“The worst is yet to come. We now have very high inflation and hyperinflation is on the way,” he told parliament last week.

“We must now start addressing the issues, we can no longer postpone them,” he added.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by techlives staff and is being published from a syndicated stream.)

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