United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Friday sworn in as Prime Minister for the fourth time.
President Maithripala Sirisena administered oath of office to Mr. Wickremesinghe at a brief ceremony attended by leaders of various parties including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
On the occasion, general secretaries of the UNP and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Kabir Hashim and Duminda Dissanayake, signed an agreement to form a national government.
The UNP general secretary later told The Hindu that social equality, ethnic integration and betterment of the country were the three salient features of the agreement, for which the two parties would work together. It had also been decided to have the national government at least for two years, he added.
Harsha De Silva, a specialist in development economics, holding a post-graduate degree and Ph.D. from the United States and 51-year-old Member of Parliament elected from Colombo on the UNP’s ticket, said the agreement was a fulfillment of people’s long-felt desire for cooperation between the two parties. His party had promoted the idea of working together even during the presidential election early this year.
Mr. Wickremesinghe, who has been a Member of Parliament since 1977, became the prime minister for the first time in May 1993 after the then incumbent D.B. Wijetunga was made President, subsequent to the assassination of R. Premadasa.
In 2001, he was elected as the Prime Minister for the second time after the United National Front got a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections. In January this year when Maithripala Sirisena defeated Mr Rajapaksa in the presidential elections, he made Mr Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister as part of a pre-poll understanding.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the SLFP was the only other person to become Prime Minister four times since Sri Lanka's independence. She held the post during July 1960-March 1965; May 1970-May 1972; May 1972-July 1977 and November 1994-August 2000. Dudley Senanayake, one of the UNP's stalwarts of yesteryear, held the post thrice - March 1952-October 1953; March 1960-July 1960 and March 1965-May 1970.
TNA stays away
No representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which decided to support the government, were present at the function. Asked why the TNA did not attend, Mavai S. Senathirajah, senior leader who was elected from Jaffna, replied that there was no specific reason. “As our members are all here and there, it is just that we could not make it to the event. Our absence should not be seen as a sign of boycott,” he added.