Ranil Wickremesinghe’s fortunes have changed dramatically in this history-making year in Sri Lanka, from chairing the remnants of the United National Party (UNP) after a stunning electoral defeat where he failed to win a single seat to become the country’s president.
Sri Lankan President
Wickremesinghe was elected by the Sri Lankan Parliament By 132 votes (in a House of 225) – and in accordance with the constitution, he will serve the remainder of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term which began in November 2019.
Wickremesinghe, who was a UNP-nominated Member of Parliament and had no other party mates in Parliament – the UNP did not win any seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections, and Wickremesinghe himself lost his seat in Colombo – was primarily dependent on Rajapaksa’s votes. and Sri Lanka Bodogana Peramuna (SLPP).
Since it was a secret ballot, it is unclear whether all SLPP members voted for him (the rival candidate Dallas Alhapiroma was also SLPP) – and whether he also got the votes of others, including Sajith Premadasa Samagi MPs. Jana Balwigaya (SJB), which was formed by those who left the UNP after being disillusioned by Wickremesinghe’s leadership.
Bankrupt nation, angry people
As president, Wickremesinghe’s mission has been terminated. He is taking charge at a time when the country is, as he puts it, “bankrupt.” It does not have foreign reserves to purchase fuel, food commodities, or medicine. Nearly 7 million Sri Lankans are facing starvation, according to the World Food Program.
Schools have been closed as a measure to save fuel, and children may be holding back several years due to undernutrition and school closures, which came after a similar disruption to education due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As Prime Minister under Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he was already in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over the bailout. While his continuation in a higher position may be an advantage internationally, in Sri Lankan street Wickremesinghe’s election has been greeted with disappointment – he is seen as a Rajapaksa agent who will do everything to protect the family, and perhaps even enable Gotabaya’s return to the country.
The old war horse of politicians stock
Wickremesinghe belongs to a storied political family. His father was a newspaper baron, and was the owner of the current Lake House Papers Group, which was nationalized by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike in the 1970s. His uncle was JR Jayewardene, who introduced the executive presidency system through a new constitution in 1978. The UNP is often referred to as the “Uncle’s Nephew Party”.
Ranil ran in the direct presidential election twice, losing both times. In 1998, he lost to Chandrika Kumaratunga, and in 2005 to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He did not run in the 2010, 2015 or 2019 presidential elections.
The first two times, the UNP backed a joint opposition candidate, and in 2019, Ranil agreed to dismiss Sajith Premadasa from his party in an effort to quell the rebellion at home.
Modern history of ups and downs
In 2015, after joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena won the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate, Ranil became prime minister – and the two leaders attempted to run a coexistence government that proved utterly unsuccessful. President Sirisena dismissed him, but regained his position by filing a legal challenge to his dismissal.
His reinstatement did not improve the cold war between him and the president. Their inability to work together was one of the factors that led to the failure to prevent the Easter attacks of 2019.
Gotabaya was elected president later that year, and his brother Mahinda swept the 2020 parliamentary elections with the Sierra Leone People’s Party.
In his mind is a man of destiny
In all, Wickremesinghe has been prime minister five times, and has never completed a single term, from a one-year term in 1993-94 during D.B. Wijetunga’s presidency to his last term that began on May 12 and ended with his election on Wednesday. president.
Wickremesinghe once believed that he would go down in history as the leader who ended the country’s civil war. The UNP urban constituencies were unhappy with how the war had affected the economy. When he became Prime Minister at the end of 2001, Sri Lanka experienced negative growth of 1.4 per cent. Having correctly decided that the LTTE was a war machine, Wickremesinghe was determined to break it by entering into peace.
As a first step, he signed a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire with LTTE President Velupillai Prabhakaran (the two did not meet face to face for this), and was willing to put the Tigers in charge of an interim administration in the north and east. The ceasefire has brought in foreign financial inflows.
But his ambitious plans were halted when Kumaratunga, dissatisfied with the terms of the ceasefire and her removal, exercised her powers as president and sacked him in 2004, before any of his plans came to fruition. It will be the Rakjapaksa brothers who will end the civil war, with an all-out military campaign against the LTTE.
Another Chance – Lunar Shots
Now, fate has given Wickremesinghe another chance to prove his credentials, and to go down in history as the president who led Sri Lanka to economic recovery.
He inspires more confidence in Western capitals and in India than many other Sri Lankan politicians. But for the international community to help Sri Lanka, it will need to restore political stability. For this, he will first need to convince the people of Sri Lanka that he is not an agent of the Rajapaksa brothers.
Wickremesinghe is known to have slowed down the investigations against Rajapaksas when he was Prime Minister from 2015 to 2019. If he continues to be seen as a friend of the Rajapaksas, it is unlikely that the Aragonaya – the “struggle” – will end for the people.