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PoliticsSri Lanka

Sri Lanka's Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as president

July 21, 2022

The new president will need to lead the island nation out of a deep political, economic and humanitarian crisis that toppled the previous leader. However, Wickremesinghe faces widespread public opposition.

Ranil Wickremesinghe
Newly elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe faces widespread public opposition Image: Eranga Jayawardena/AP/dpa

Sri Lanka: Search for new leader begins

Sri Lanka's newly elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in Thursday during a ceremony at the parliamentary complex in Colombo amid heavy security. 

However, there were no reports of protests during the ceremony similar to those that rocked the capital in recent weeks. 

Sri Lanka's Parliament on Wednesday elected Wickremesinghe as president after embattled former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa tendered his resignation and fled the country last week

The new president, who previously served as prime minister, will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa's term, which ends in 2024. 

"I thank parliament for this honor," the 73-year-old Wickremesinghe said in an acceptance speech Wednesday after his victory was announced by the secretary-general of the legislature. "Our divisions are now over."

The incoming president faces the mammoth task of leading the country out of the deep political, economic and humanitarian crisis that has caused civil unrest and toppled the standing government. 

Earlier this week, as Sri Lanka's acting president, Wickremesinghe imposed a state of emergency as Sri Lanka struggles with crippling shortages of essential items, including food, fuel and medicine.

Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe?

Wickremesinghe previously ran for president twice — unsuccessfully — but has held several senior government positions. 

Often known as "the fox," thanks to his reputation as a shrewd political operator, the incoming president has experience negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which may help him guide the island nation out of the economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe also enjoys a working relationship with key neighbors and donor countries, including India.

Opposing Wickremesinghe was Dullas Alahapperuma, a former government minister and spokesman who is considered more acceptable to protesters but lacks top-level governing experience. 

Alahapperuma was nominated by a breakaway faction of the ruling coalition and also holds the support of ethnic minority parties.

Official results showed Wickremesinghe earned 134 votes with opponent Alahapperuma getting 82.

Sri Lankan police behind a yellow barrier
Police barricaded the parliament building in Colombo as voting got underway Image: REUTERS

What is next for Sri Lanka?

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told Nikkei Asia after Wickremesinghe's victory that the IMF hopes to resume rescue package talks with Sri Lanka "as quickly as possible."

DW South Asia correspondent Charu Kartikeya said the new president has already laid out a road map on resuming the talks with IMF on a bailout package and will present is a debt restructuring plan.

If that restructuring plan is agreed upon, a donor conference is scheduled for friendly countries to provide help that Sri Lanka needs. But this will be a long process, said Kartikeya.

Despite Wickremesinghe's experience in diplomatic affairs and his role in leading the crucial IMF talks, he faces intense opposition from many Sri Lankans.

Wickremesinghe's victory is expected to result in more demonstrations by protesters who see him as a proxy for the Rajapaksas. DW's South Asia Bureau Chief Amrita Cheena said protests would likely continue.

"The people wanted a change they wanted something new," she reported, adding that Wickremesinghe was too closely associated with the ousted president.

She also said he lacked a public mandate. "He lost his parliamentary seat in the last election, he was appointed on a national list to parliament and he has just one member. so people wonder can you have president with such little public mandate."

As president, Wickremesinghe now has the discretion to appoint a new prime minister, the position he occupied under former President Rajapaksa. 

Security forces, including hundreds of police, paramilitary and military troops, were deployed around the parliament building ahead of the vote as protesters waited for a new president to be elected.

The road leading to the building had at least three barricades even as security personnel patrolled a lake around the parliament in speed boats. Military jeeps and armored vehicles were also stationed within the perimeter.

Activism in Sri Lanka unrest

see/wmr (Reuters, AP)