AP

New Sri Lankan president divisive choice for fixing crisis

Jul 20, 2022, 5:42 AM | Updated: 6:13 pm

President elect Ranil Wickremesinghe greats supporters upon his arrival at a buddhist temple in Col...

President elect Ranil Wickremesinghe greats supporters upon his arrival at a buddhist temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Wickremesinghe was elected president Wednesday by lawmakers who opted for a seasoned, veteran leader to lead the country out of economic collapse, despite widespread public opposition. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

(AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s prime minister was elected president Wednesday by lawmakers who opted for a seasoned, veteran leader to lead the country out of economic collapse, despite widespread public opposition.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, an ally of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose term he is finishing after he fled the country and resigned, urged fellow lawmakers to unite in saving the nation.

“People are not expecting the old politics from us, they expect us to work together,” he told Parliament.

But he is a divisive figure, unpopular among a public fed up with shortages of food, fuel and medicine, and critics question whether he can muster the political heft and public support to get the job done.

Wickremesinghe was appointed prime minister by Rajapaksa in May after angry protests forced Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to step down and seek refuge in a naval base. Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka earlier this month, submitting his resignation by email, and Wickremesinghe became acting president ahead of Wednesday’s vote, as well as prime minister and finance minister.

He then quickly declared a state of emergency after protesters stormed the presidential palace and several other government buildings last week. That gave him broad powers to act in the interest of public security and order, enabling the authorities to carry out searches and detain people. Wickremesinghe was also empowered to change or suspend any law.

At 73, Wickremesinghe has had six terms as prime minister. Rajapaksa chose him as he tried to restore Sri Lanka’s credibility after it stopped making payments on its $51 billion in foreign debt.

As protests raged, he became the public face of the crisis, delivering weekly addresses in Parliament, raising taxes and pledging to overhaul a government that had increasingly concentrated power under the presidency, helping to tip the country into crisis. He has been leading negotiations on a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund.

Opponents have accused Wickremesinghe of protecting the Rajapaksa family, who are widely blamed for leading the nation into ruin, from allegations of corruption and other wrongdoing.

Just days before lawmakers elected him president, protesters took over Wickremesinghe’s office compound demanding that he resign. His private residence was burned down.

Wickremesinghe’s win on Wednesday was a vindication after a humiliating 2020 electoral defeat for his United National Party — one of the country’s main and oldest parties — that left him its sole lawmaker. With support from Rajapaksa’s ruling party, he netted 134 votes, far more than runner-up Dullas Alahapperuma, a former government minister backed by the opposition. He won 82 votes.

Ahead of the vote, few lawmakers had publicly said they would vote for Wickremesinghe given the widespread public hostility against him — but dozens loyal to Rajapaksa had been expected to back him because he had assured them he would severely punish protesters who had attacked politicians’ homes during the unrest.

Born into a wealthy, politically active family whose fortune was made in timber and the media, Wickremesinghe has served as a lawmaker for 45 years. His reputation suffered during a previous stint as prime minister in a difficult power-sharing arrangement with then-President Maithripala Sirisena. A communication breakdown between them was blamed for intelligence lapses that led to a terror attack in 2019 that devastated tourism even before the catastrophic blow from the pandemic.

He earned a law degree from the University of Colombo and practiced as a lawyer before entering politics in 1977, becoming the youngest lawmaker at the time. He was first appointed prime minister in 1993 and also was an opposition leader for more than a decade.

Wickremesinghe has generally kept details of his private life under wraps. He is married to Maitree Wickremesinghe, a professor and expert on gender and women’s studies.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

1 day ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

2 days ago

This undated image provided by Mikel Desmond shows his brother Marcus Tessier, who turned up in Dem...

Associated Press

Missing teen with autism found in New Mexico, about 200 miles away from his Arizona home

A missing teen with autism has been found in New Mexico — about 200 miles away from his home in southern Arizona.

2 days ago

A newly released report on last year’s fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a group of bicycl...

Associated Press

Report suggests steering of vehicle that caused fatal Goodyear bicycle crash worked fine

A new report on last year’s fatal Goodyear bicycle crash has cast doubts about the driver’s claim the vehicle’s steering locked up.

3 days ago

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

5 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

New Sri Lankan president divisive choice for fixing crisis