Crisis-hit Sri Lanka names Ranil Wickremesinghe as new PM: Who is he?

Wickremesinghe, a contentious choice by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, took his oath in a ceremony at the president’s residence. Protesters have blocked the entrance to the president’s office for more than a month
Five-time former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reappointed on Thursday in hopes of quelling weeks of worsening civil unrest due to the political and economic crisis. 
Wickremesinghe, a contentious choice by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, took his oath in a ceremony at the president’s residence. Protesters have blocked the entrance to the president’s office for more than a month.
The president’s brother, Mahinda Rajakapsa, resigned as prime minister on Monday following violent attacks by supporters on peaceful anti-government protesters. His resignation automatically dissolved the Cabinet, leaving an administrative vacuum.
Wickremesinghe visited a Buddhist temple after taking his oath and told journalists he will work with both the opposition and governing party to find solutions to the hardships faced by the people.
Who is the new Sri Lankan PM?

  • Born in 1949 after Sri Lanka gained independence from the British, Wickremesinghe was elected to Parliament in 1977 at the age of 28, having worked in the Youth League of the United National Party (UNP) from his university days.
  • As the youngest minister in Sri Lanka at the time, he held the post of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Jayewardene.
  • He has been the chief of the United National Party since 1994. He is the sole representative of his party in the Sri Lankan parliament. 
  • His political party split in 2020 amid a leadership crisis and most senior members left to form a new party, which is currently the country’s main opposition.
  • The leader, who is perceived as the Sri Lankan politician who could command international cooperation, has held many important posts during his political career spanning four and half decades.
  • The nephew of Sri Lanka’s first executive president Junius Jayewardene, he was first appointed prime minister from 1993-1994 after the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
  • He was also elected as the Prime Minister from 2001-2004 when the United National Front Government won the general elections in 2001. But he lost power in 2004, after Chandrika Kumaratunga called early elections.
  • His reputation was damaged during his previous term as prime minister when he was in a difficult power-sharing arrangement with then-President Maithripala Sirisena.
  • During his term as Prime Minister, he began peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), even offering a power-sharing deal. Both Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa had accused him of being too lenient with LTTE.
  • He has built a personal rapport with Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour India and visited the country on four occasions – October 2016, April 2017, November 2017 and October 2018 – during his previous term as the prime minister.

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