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Sri Lanka crisis: in depth

Explained | The political career of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

This is the sixth time that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed the prime minister of Sri Lanka, although he has never finished a term.

May 13, 2022 11:14 am | Updated 06:17 pm IST

Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visits a Buddhist temple after his swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on May 12, 2022.

Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visits a Buddhist temple after his swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on May 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in for a sixth stint as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister on May 13.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday appointed Mr. Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister of the country after Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation, as the country continues to battle its worst-ever economic crisis. This is the sixth time that Mr. Wickremesinghe has been appointed the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka; however, he has never finished a term.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from the post of Prime Minister on May 9 after his supporters attacked anti-government protestors in Sri Lanka. At least nine people were killed in the violence and over 300 were injured. In accordance with the Sri Lankan Constitution, the Prime Minister’s resignation led to the automatic dissolution of the Cabinet of Ministers. A Sri Lankan court on Thursday barred Mahinda Rajapaksa, his son and MP Namal Rajapaksa, and 15 others from leaving the country due to investigations against them for the attack on peaceful anti-government protestors in Colombo.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career

Mr. Wickremesinghe was first elected to the Sri Lankan Parliament over four decades ago, in 1977, at the age of 28. The youngest minister in Sri Lanka at the time, he held the post of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under President J.R. Jayewardene. He was later appointed to the Cabinet as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment. He has also held the education portfolio and served as the Minister of Industries, Science and Technology.

He has been a member of Parliament in most sessions since 1977, except for a brief period in 2020-2021 after he lost a parliamentary election when the Rajapaksas rose to power with a majority.

Mr. Wickremesinghe was first appointed the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1993 after President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). His first term as Prime Minister lasted over a year. He returned to power and won a decisive mandate in 2001, and again in 2015 – the only two times he was able to achieve the feat during his long political career.

In 2018, Mr. Wickremesinghe lost his post a little short of four years into the term, and Mahinda Rajapaksa replaced him as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. However, with the backing of 117 members of the 225-member House — including a critical bloc of 14 Tamil MPs — the ousted Prime Minister made a comeback, even though President Maithripala Sirisena had said that he would not work with him “ever.”

In the 2020 general elections, Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP performed poorly, and the Rajapaksas won a two-thirds majority. Mr. Wickremesinghe is the only member of the UNP in the current Parliament. Even though he lost the 2020 elections, he was nominated on the national list through the proportional representation system.

Mr. Wickremesinghe also contested for the post of country’s President twice, but lost to Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999 and Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005.

In March 2022, Mr. Wickremesinghe had dispelled rumours of joining a “national unity government” even as the country’s economic crisis was worsening quickly.

Now, after being sworn in for his sixth term as the prime minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe is tasked with the massive responsibility of handling Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and bringing political stability to the island nation.

During his previous terms as the prime minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe began peace talks with LTTE and even offered them a power-sharing deal, although he was criticised by both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ms. Kumaratunga for being too lenient. He is also considered to be close to India and has visited the country on four occasions– October 2016, April 2017, November 2017, and October 2018 – when he was the prime minister.

Mr. Wickremesinghe is considered to be a pro-West liberal and is said to believe in the free-market ideology that was introduced by his uncle and United National Party (UNP) leader Jayewardene in 1977.

(With inputs from news agencies)

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