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Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka's new president?

Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka's new president?

File photo of Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Jun 11, 2022. (Photo: AP/Eranga Jayawardena)

Sri Lanka's parliament on Wednesday (Jul 20) elected Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new president, despite fierce public opposition to his candidacy.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time former prime minister, secured 134 votes in the 225-member house. His main rival, ruling party lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma, got 82.

"I thank parliament for this honour," the 73-year-old said after his victory was announced by the secretary-general of the legislature. He was appointed acting president last week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned.

He added that he hoped to be sworn in later on Wednesday at a simple ceremony within the tightly guarded parliament building.

Wickremesinghe has run unsuccessfully for president twice before, but secured enough votes among lawmakers despite controlling just one seat - as leader of the United National Party (UNP).

The Rajapaksas' Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, the largest in parliament, backed Wickremesinghe for the presidency.

Born into a prominent family of politicians and businessmen with large interests in the media, a 29-year-old Wickremesinghe was made the country's youngest Cabinet minister by his uncle, President Junius Jayewardene, in 1978.

In 1994, following assassinations that wiped out several of his senior colleagues, Wickremesinghe became leader of the UNP.

Wickremesinghe long had a relatively clean image in Sri Lanka's politics, but it was muddied during his last-but-one prime ministerial term in 2015-19, when his administration was rocked by an insider trading scam involving central bank bonds.

His schoolmate and choice as central bank chief was a key accused, raising allegations of cronyism.

Wickremesinghe has also been accused of protecting members of the Rajapaksa clan who have been accused of graft, kickbacks, siphoning off public finances and murder.

On Jul 9, Wickremesinghe announced that he was willing to step down as prime minister as protesters swarmed through central Colombo and set a part of his personal residence ablaze.

As acting president after Rajapaksa fled the country, he took charge of a bankrupt nation that has defaulted on its US$51-billion foreign debt and lacks the money to import essential goods.

His status as a pro-Western, free-market reformist could smooth bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors, but he has already warned there will be no quick fix to the nation's unprecedented economic woes.

"The worst is yet to come. We have very high inflation now and hyperinflation is on its way," Wickremesinghe told parliament earlier this month. "We are bankrupt."


Wickremesinghe is married to Maithree, an English lecturer. They do not have children and have bequeathed their assets to his old school and their universities.

But their impressive library of more than 2,500 books - which he called his "biggest treasure" - was among the losses when their house was torched by demonstrators.

Wickremesinghe started work as a rookie reporter at one of the family newspapers during his younger days.

He turned to a legal career after the family firm was nationalised in 1973 by Sirima Bandaranaike, the world's first woman prime minister.

"If Lake House had not been taken over, I would have become a journalist. So actually, Mrs Bandaranaike sent me to politics," Wickremesinghe once told AFP.

Source: Agencies/ga


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