Ranil Wickremesinghe: Sri Lanka’s new president will face a tough battle

Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as the new president of Sri Lanka to lead a nation that is very unhappy that he will remain in power amid an unprecedented economic crisis.
Six-time prime minister Mr Wickremesinghe has been elected as the new president of crisis-ridden Sri Lanka with the backing of the disgraced former leader’s party.
The official results gave the veteran politician 134 votes, an absolute majority in the 225-member parliament, after former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned after
“Our differences are over,” he said in a brief welcoming speech to parliament, calling on his defeated rivals “to join me and work together to bring the country out of the crisis we are facing.”

Mr Wickremesinghe will serve the remainder of Mr Rajapaksa’s term, which runs until 2024.

What’s going on in Sri Lanka?

Mr Wickremesinghe takes charge of a bankrupt country that is negotiating bailouts with the International Monetary Fund of 22 million people. .
Protests over the unprecedented economic crisis have been raging for months. Mr. Wickremesingha faces an uphill battle to support some of the demonstrators, who, along with the now-exiled Mr. Rajapaska, are calling for him to step down.
The UN has warned that Sri Lanka is heading towards a humanitarian disaster with months of food, fuel and medicine shortages.

More than five out of every six families are eating less food, according to the World Food Programme, while schools and non-essential government offices are closed for weeks to cut commuting and save fuel.

Motorists queue for hours on the rare occasions when gasoline or diesel is available, and the country is experiencing long blackouts as the government has no money to import oil for generators.
Even according to official figures, inflation has exceeded 50 percent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt both tourism and remittances abroad, two pillars of the country’s economy, with the problems exacerbated by political missteps.
More than half of the country’s harvest failed after Mr. Rajapaksa banned imports of agrochemicals last year. The ban was lifted after six months, but the fertilizer has yet to return.

Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy in mid-April when the government defaulted on US$51 billion (US$74 million) in foreign debt.

Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe?

Mr. Wickremesinghe, a qualified lawyer, has served as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka six times.
He took over as prime minister in May after the former president’s older brother stepped down after clashes between supporters and anti-government demonstrators sparked a deadly wave of violence.
Mr. Wickremesinghe ran twice unsuccessfully for the presidency, but received enough votes among politicians, despite controlling only one seat – as leader of the United National Party (UNP).

His parliamentary victory came after he enlisted the support of many members of Sri Lanka’s main party, the Podujan Peramuna (SLPP), which is dominated by the Rajapaksa family, the country’s most powerful political dynasty.

But it remains to be seen if he can quell the massive protests that led to the ouster of the previous president.
The protesters who opposed Mr. Rajapaksa are also opposing Mr. Wickremesinghe, believing him to be a confidant of the disgraced Rajapaksa clan.
“I am not a friend of the Rajapaks. I am a friend of the people,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.

He declared a state of emergency and distinguished between “protesters” and “rioters”, promising to take a hard line on troublemakers.

What was the reaction?

The protesters have vowed to continue their efforts to remove Mr Wickremesinghe from office, but most admit they have run out of steam and public support is waning.
When university students at the forefront of the struggle called for a march in Colombo on Tuesday, fewer than 1,000 people showed up, and police estimate their number at just a few hundred.
The campaign to encircle the national parliament and block the vote on Wednesday also failed as no one showed up.
“We supported the fight, but after we got rid of the Rajapaksa family, there is no point in continuing it and causing disruptions,” a national hospital doctor, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

One of the organizers of previous protests, Chamira Dedduwage, said removing Mr. Rajapaksa was one of the goals of the movement and protesters should be satisfied with achieving it.

The journalist presents the history of the protests in Sri Lanka.

A worried Sri Lankan president fled the country, arriving in the Maldives on a military plane just hours before his promised resignation expired. Source: SBS news

Opposition leader Sajit Premadasa said, “Now it’s an outdated parliament with a mandate given to the ousted president.”

However, he added: “You cannot have an anarchist country. We must work in accordance with the constitution. As an opposition, we will give our maximum support” to any plan to restore the economy.
Others, however, are determined to continue their fight.
Outside the Presidential Secretariat, where protesters have been camping for months, actress Damita Abeiratne, 45, said: “We lost. The whole country has lost.”
“Politicians are fighting for their power. They don’t fight for people. They have no sympathy for people who are suffering.”
“People deserve fuel, transportation, we deserve everything citizens need,” said Kasumi Ranasinghe Arachchige, 26. “Until we see that no one in Sri Lanka is fighting, the protest continues.”

Another protester, Buwanaka Perera, said: “The occupation movement will continue, the struggle will continue. We will continue to protest until Ranil returns home.”