Sri Lanka political crisis World

Sri Lanka's newly elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in

Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka by the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at the Parliament, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 21, 2022.

Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka by the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at the Parliament, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 21, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's new President on July 21 to take charge of a nation bitterly angry. He will remain in power amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months to demand their top leaders step down to take responsibility for economic chaos that has left the nation's 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. While the protesters have focussed on the Rajapaksa political dynasty, Mr. Wickremesinghe also has drawn their ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate.

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The six-time Prime Minister had never held the top job. But he easily won the secret ballot of lawmakers on July 20 to finish the term of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence last week and resigned.

Mr. Wickremesinghe, 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been overseeing the bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Lawmakers apparently considered him the safer hands to lead the nation through the crisis, despite public anger at Mr. Wickremesinghe as an example of the nation's problematic political establishment. During demonstrations last week, crowds set his personal residence on fire and occupied his office.

After Wednesday's vote, Mr. Wickremesinghe called for politicians to work together and pleaded for the country to move on. But protesters flocked to the Presidential residence instead, chanting, “Ranil, go home.”

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Mr. Wickremesinghe took his oath of office on Thursday morning before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at a ceremony held in Parliament in the capital, Colombo. He now can choose a new Prime Minister.

In an example of the troubles caused by the economic crisis, a power outage hampered live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony at Parliament. An official at Parliament who spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media said the live coverage was to be done by state-owned Independent Television Network.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said on Monday the negotiations with the IMF were near a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed. He also said the government has taken steps to resolve shortages of fuel and cooking gas.

On Wednesday, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told financial magazine Nikkei Asia that the organisation hoped to complete the rescue talks “as quickly as possible.”

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On Monday, in his role as acting President, Mr. Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency that gave him broad authority to act in the interest of public security and order. Authorities can carry out searches and detain people, and Mr. Wickremesinghe can also change or suspend any law. Parliament can regularly review the law and it will expire without its approval.

Presidents in Sri Lanka are normally elected by the public. The responsibility falls to Parliament only if the Presidency becomes vacant before the term officially ends. It has happened once before, in 1993, when then-Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was chosen by Parliament uncontested after former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, father of the current Opposition leader, was assassinated.

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Printable version | Aug 18, 2022 11:04:16 pm |