Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as Sri Lankan president amid unrest

The six-time prime minister and veteran politician is an unpopular choice among protesters who forced his predecessor out.

Ranil Wickremesinghe who has been elected as the Eighth Executive President under the Constitution leaves a Buddhist temple,
Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, has been sworn in as Sri Lanka's new president [File: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s eighth executive president at a ceremony in the Parliament in the capital, Colombo.

After inspecting a guard of honour alongside the speaker of the parliament at the entrance to the parliamentary complex, Wickremesinghe entered the parliament on Thursday to take the oath of office before the chief justice.

Two of his predecessors, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, were among those present.

Wickremesinghe replaces Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to flee the country in the face of months-long protests over a crippling economic crisis.

He was appointed acting president in the absence of Rajapaksa who fled to the Maldives and then to Singapore. Rajapaksa tendered his resignation on July 14 after reaching Singapore.

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe was elected president by the members of Sri Lanka’s Parliament. It was a remarkable turn of fortunes for the veteran leader, who lost his seat in the August 2020 parliamentary elections. His United National Party (UNP) secured a single seat through the national list, a system that allocates additional seats for accumulative votes.

For months, the 225-member Sri Lanka Parliament functioned with only 224 MPs as Wickremesinghe did not nominate anybody for the national list seat allocated for the UNP. Months later, he was heavily criticised when he appointed himself to the vacancy.

Observers believe that his main political rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the patriarch of the Rajapaksa dynasty, is among those who persuaded Wickremesinghe to enter the parliament “through the back door”, as some analysts have described.

But in less than two years, he was elevated to the top post in Sri Lanka, a position he long aspired for but failed to secure through popular ballot despite repeated attempts.

Wickremesinghe, though not a popular politician, is widely respected among the political circles, as well as within the diplomatic circles.

Throughout his 45-year-long parliamentary career, he has held various senior positions, including the post of prime minister, several cabinet portfolios, chief whip and leader of the opposition.

As he vacates the prime minister’s post, the cabinet of ministers stands dissolved.

Wickremesinghe is expected to name his prime minister and the cabinet soon.

Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who was once Wickremesinghe’s deputy, says his immediate focus should be to implement much-needed reforms.

“The new president’s immediate tasks: 19A-like constitutional reforms, facilitating a multi-party interim government, implementing a common minimum economic program, mechanism for citizens opinions and youth aspirations in governance, and initiate drafting a new constitution,” Jayasuriya, who is currently the head of a National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ), said in a tweet.

Source: Al Jazeera