Ranil Wickremesinghe: A glimpse into political career of Sri Lanka’s new premier
- Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s prime minister for the sixth time
- Wickremesinghe could never complete a single term in the office
- He was first appointed prime minister in 1993 after the assassination of then-president Ranasinghe Premadasa
Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's prime minister for the sixth time on Thursday. Wickremesinghe took charge of the office at a time when Sri Lanka going through its worst economic crisis. The veteran politician, however, could never complete a full term in office.
Also Read: Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe?
The 73-year-old’s political career seems over but the ongoing crisis, which forced former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down, gave it a fresh lease of life.
Wickremesinghe is the sole parliamentary representative of the United National Party, a once-powerful political force that was nearly wiped out in Sri Lanka's last elections.
The former lawyer hails from a political family and his uncle Junius Jayewardene served as president for more than a decade.
Politics over journalism
But Wickremesinghe was never interested in politics. He dreamed of pursuing a career in journalism. But as the government nationalised his family's newspaper business in 1973, he quit the idea.
He was first appointed prime minister in 1993 after the assassination of then-president Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was killed in a bomb attack by Tamil Tiger guerrillas during Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war.
Premadasa's son Sajith is the current opposition leader and had also been touted as a possible prime ministerial candidate this week.
In his first term as a premier, he could hold the seat a little more than a year. He returned to power in 2001, earning a reputation for sound economic management after steering the country out of recession.
He was sacked due to his tussle with the president. Wickremesinghe spent the next decade in the opposition bench.
He also contested two presidential elections but lost on both occasions. A series of defeats prompted his supporters to dub him a "record loser".
Scam and tussle
In 2015, he was again sworn in as prime minister after President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the elections. The opposition rallied behind him as a unity candidate against the authoritarian leader.
His clean image was soon tainted when his administration was rocked by an insider trading scam involving central bank bonds. A key accused in the multi-million dollar scam was the central bank chief at the time, Arjuna Mahendran, who was Wickremesinghe's schoolmate.
Political tussle with the powerful Rajapaksa family also threw the country into crisis in 2018, with Mahinda taking over the premiership for six weeks before the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.
Wickremesinghe returns to the office to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators, and later had to be rescued from his residence by the military.
He will serve at the pleasure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda's younger brother, who has fought off calls for his own resignation over the government's mismanagement of the economic crisis.
Wickremesinghe will be taking charge of a bankrupt nation in default of its $51-billion foreign debt and without money to import essential goods.
His status as a pro-West, free-market reformist could smooth bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors.