Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s new President?

Ranil Wickremesinghe, a lawyer who served as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka six times, is a record Finally reached the highest positionHe won the presidency after winning a parliamentary vote on Wednesday despite strong public opposition to his candidacy.

“I thank Parliament for this honor,” the 73-year-old said after his victory was announced by the Secretary-General of the Legislative Council. He received 134 votes in the 225-member House, while his main challenger, the ruling party MP, Dulles Alahabruma, received 82 votes.

Wickremesinghe’s rise to power is remarkable. He has run for president twice before unsuccessfully, but won enough votes among lawmakers despite only controlling one seat – as leader of the United National Party (UNP).

His experience in senior government positions, and his reputation as a skilled worker that earned him the nickname ‘The Fox’, should be in his favor as he searches for a way out of Sri Lanka’s devastating economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe has also recently negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and has a working relationship with major donor countries including India.

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It remains to be seen whether he can quell the mass protests that led to the ouster of former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, or not.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets earlier this month to vent their anger over rising inflation, shortages of fuel and other vital goods, regular power outages and what they see as corruption among the ruling elite.

While the focus of their anger was Rajapaksa, a member of the country’s most powerful political dynasty before the crisis who fled the country for Singapore, they also demanded Wickremesinghe’s resignation – something he refused to do.

Wickremesinghe’s victory in Parliament came after he won the support of many within the main party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is dominated by the Rajapaksa family.

He took office in May after the elder brother of the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned from the post after clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters led to a deadly wave of violence.

Since then, Wickremesinghe has been involved in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a possible $3 billion rescue package, along with working on an interim budget to cut government spending.

“This is an economic crisis, not a political one,” Sagara Kariyawasam, general secretary of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, told Reuters. “We feel that Ranil Wickremesinghe is the only person with the experience, knowledge and ability to provide solutions to the economic crisis.”

As president, he is set to complete Rajapaksa’s term which was due to expire in 2024.

“Politics is a blood sport”

Born into a prominent family of politicians and businessmen with huge interests in the media, the 29-year-old was made the country’s youngest minister by his uncle, President Junius Jaywardene, in 1978.

In 1994, after the assassinations that wiped out many of his senior colleagues, Wickremesinghe became leader of the United National Party.

Unlike Rajapaksas, he has little support other than wealthy urban voters – although that has not stopped him time and time again from finding a way back into the premiership.

On July 9, Wickremesinghe announced his willingness to step down as Prime Minister while protesters swept through central Colombo and set fire to part of his personal residence.

A liberal economist with experience dealing with the International Monetary Fund from his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe also forged ties with China and India, the two Asian giants who had long struggled for influence on the Indian Ocean island.

Critics blame him for disrupting several investigations against the Rajapaksa family, including allegations of human rights and corruption – an accusation he has denied.

Wickremesinghe’s refusal to relinquish the leadership of the party led to the formation of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), whose leader Sajith Premadasa was also a presidential candidate.

With Parliament meeting to finalize candidates for the position on Tuesday, Premadasa abruptly withdrew from the race and announced that he would support Alahabirouma. In the end it was not enough to influence the vote.

“Politics is more than chess,” Wickremesinghe said in a 2014 TV interview. “It’s teamwork like cricket. This is how you have to have the stamina for a marathon. It’s as hard as rugger and as bloody sport as boxing.”

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