Ranil Wickremesinghe, a veteran politician from Sri Lanka, has been sworn into the office of the country’s sixth prime minister. This is in an effort to calm tensions in the nation that has been caught in a political crisis and economic turmoil.
This is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s contentious decision, but Mr Wickremesinghe administered his oath at the presidential residence on Wednesday.
This comes just days after Mahinda Rajakapsa, the brother of the president, resigned as prime minister following violent protests by supporters.
His resignation instantly disbanded parliament, leaving an administrative vacuum.
President Rajakapsa’s new appointment is an attempt to ease tensions in Sri Lanka and restore international credibility.
After protesters were attacked, authorities deployed troops and armoured vehicles to the streets of Colombo, the capital. Nine people were killed and over 200 injured.
Security personnel were ordered to shoot anyone they believe is participating in the unrest. This comes despite a nationwide curfew which began Monday evening.
Why is the prime minister of Canada a contentious decision?
He was the former prime minister between 2015 and 2019, and was accused of protecting Rajapaksa’s powerful family against corruption allegations.
Anura Dissanayake, an opposition lawmaker, said that Wickremesinghe’s selection was more about protecting President Wickremesinghe and his family against public anger over his role during the economic crisis than it was about solving the country’s problems.
The selection was also opposed by Catholic and Buddhist clergy.
“This decision was taken completely disregarding the aspirations and needs of those who are protesting today. This decision will only make the protests worse,” stated Rev Omalpe Sobitha (a senior Buddhist monk).
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (Catholic Archbishop of Colombo), stated that in order for the country’s recovery from the crisis, it was necessary to “completely change the system.”
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His reputation as PM was also damaged by his previous term, when he was involved in a power-sharing agreement with Maithripala Sirisena.
Conflict and a communication breakdown among them were blamed for intelligence lapses which led to suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019, which claimed more than 260 lives.
Country drives to near bankruptcy
After weeks of protests, government officials are now in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to provide a bailout package.
Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of its worst economic crisis since independence. Protesters demanded Rajapaksas’ resignations over a debt crisis which has led to Sri Lanka being driven to near bankruptcy and caused shortages of fuel and food.
The country has stopped paying $7bn (PS5.7bn), in foreign loan repayments due for this year.
According to the IMF, any assistance in short- or long-term is contingent on the outcome of negotiations with creditors regarding loan restructuring. Out of a total foreign debt of $51bn, it must repay $25bn in foreign loans.