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Ratnasiri Wickremanayake appointed Sri Lankan Premier

V.S. Sambandan

New leader holds Sinhala hardline position and hawkish views on the ethnic problem

OLD ORDER CHANGETH: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (left) swearing in Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as Prime Minister in Colombo on Monday. — PHOTO: Sriyantha Walpola

COLOMBO: Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Sri Lanka's Minister for Interior and Buddha Sasana and Deputy Defence Minister in the outgoing Cabinet, was appointed as the new Prime Minister by the President, Mahinda Rajapakse on Monday.

Mr. Wickremanayake (73) succeeds Mr. Rajapakse who resigned from the Premier's position to meet a Constitutional requirement immediately after he was sworn in as President on Saturday. The other Cabinet Ministers have not yet been named.

JVP non-committal

Mr. Rajapakse's ruling ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), has not yet taken a decision on joining the Government. "We will decide later," Vijitha Herath, JVP politburo member told The Hindu .

Unlike in India, the Sri Lankan Cabinet is headed by the Executive President, who is both the Head of State and Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

The role of the Prime Minister is largely nominal, as the President is the head of the executive and determines portfolio allocation and the size of the Cabinet.

Mr. Wickremanayake is a former Prime Minister (August 2000-December 2001) who succeeded the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike after she resigned from the position at the age of 84. He is a senior vice-president of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The new Prime Minister entered politics in 1960 elected from Horana in southern Sri Lanka, representing the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna. In 1970 he was appointed as the Deputy Minister for Justice. The President, Mr. Rajapakse is also from a southern constituency.

Mr. Wickremanayake is known to toe a Sinhala-hardline position. The new Premier is also one who is seen as holding hawkish views on the resolution of the decades-long separatist conflict and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

During Ms. Kumaratunga's presidencies, he held the Public Administration, Home Affairs and Plantation industries portfolios. The decision to appoint Mr. Wickremanayake as the Prime Minister appears to be taken at the last-minute, as his name did not figure in political circles until Sunday night.

Before the election, the SLFP had named Anura Bandaranaike, the brother of the outgoing President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, as its choice for the position of the Prime Minister if Mr. Rajapakse was elected President.

However, Mr. Bandaranaike did not actively campaign for Mr. Rajapakse citing disagreement over the latter's poll-pact with the JVP and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). According to party sources, this weighed against Mr. Bandaranaike being named Prime Minister.

After Mr. Rajapakse's victory, several other names were doing the rounds, including that of D.M. Jayaratne, the general secretary of the People's Alliance.

Parliament address

The newly-elected President, Mr. Rajapakse is scheduled to address the 225-member Parliament on November 25 during which he would outline his Government's policy, political sources said.

A notification proroguing the Parliament is expected later tonight.

This is to enable Mr. Rajapakse make his Statement of Government Policy in the House at the commencement of Parliamentary session when it reconvenes on Friday.

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