Five-time former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been reappointed for a sixth term in an effort to bring stability to his country amid a political and economic crisis that has engulfed the island nation.
Wickremesinghe, 73, took his oath before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a ceremony in the president’s office on May 12. Then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajakapsa, the president’s elder brother, had vacated the position on May 9 amid riots triggered by his supporters. Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, a two-time former president, is reportedly holed up in a naval base in the north-east for his own safety.
In a televised address to the nation on May 11, President Rajapaksa stopped short of yielding to weeks of nationwide protests calling for him to resign as president over the country’s worst economic downturn since independence.
Wickremesinghe is the scion of an elite family whose roots go back to pre-independence Sri Lanka, where his maternal grandfather DR Wijewardena published a series of newspapers supporting the independence movement. His paternal grandfather, CG Wickremesinghe, was the most senior Sri Lankan colonial government servant.
Sri Lankans are desperate as basic items like food and fuel run out or become unaffordable. “We have come to the protest site despite the curfew,” one protester, Chandrasekaran, told BBC Tamil in Colombo. “We are suffering even now. There is no kerosene, no petrol, no diesel, and no power.”
Despite a nationwide curfew, there have been two consecutive nights of arson attacks by mobs – many have targeted property belonging to the Rajapaksas and other politicians who are blamed for the mess the country is in.
Shops near Colombo as well as a resort owned by the son of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa were torched. At least nine people have been killed and about 200 injured in unrest since May 9.
Sri Lanka had already seen weeks of protests over its dire financial situation, which has caused the Sri Lankan rupee to plunge, provoking severe shortages of basic items such as food, fuel and medical supplies.
Sri Lanka is attempting to iron out a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – the island’s $81bn economy is near bankruptcy. It has suspended its foreign debt payments, largely because it cannot service loans from China that paid for massive infrastructure projects.
Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he looks forward to closer ties with India during his term and thanked India for its economic assistance to the country as it tackles the worst economic crisis since independence. India has committed more than USD 3 billion to debt-ridden Sri Lanka in loans, credit lines and credit swaps since January this year.
India on May 12 said it looked forward to working with the new Sri Lankan government formed in accordance with the democratic processes and New Delhi’s commitment to the people of the island nation will continue.