With Many Roadblocks, Ranil Wickremesinghe in Presidential Race Again. A Look at His Chequered Past

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Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s current acting President and Prime Minister, will fight with other two Members of Parliament — Dullas Alahapperuma of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramunay — for the post of President. Wickremesinghe was promoted to the post of acting President after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore leaving the country in political turmoil.

The six-time PM who never served a full term, Wickremesinghe’s tenure as prime minister began this May when Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of Gotabaya, resigned as President amidst the deep economic crisis in the country.

Wickremesinghe, who declared nationwide emergency when he took over as acting President, riled thousands of Sri Lankans who defied his order and protested at his office in Colombo.

His association with Rajapaksa has upset the protesters who want him out of power. His private house was burned down by demonstrators. In a TV statement, he called the protesters as “fascists”.

Wickremesinghe’s Political Journey

The 73-year-old leader has been in Parliament for around 45 years and is considered a good negotiator. Born to an affluent political family, Wickremesinghe is a lawyer by profession. He became a Member of Parliament in 1977 and then climbed up the political ladder during Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure as President in 1989. He became the PM for the first time in 1993 when Premadas was assassinated and DB Wijetunga took over presidency.

Ranil Wickremesinghe takes oath as the interim President in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 15. (AP/PTI File)
Ranil Wickremesinghe takes oath as the interim President in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 15. (AP/PTI File)

He became the leader of United National Party (UNP) in 1994 when its leader Gamini Dissanayake was assassinated by suspected rebels of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

When Wickremesinghe fought for the post of President in 2005, he lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa by 1,50,000 votes, and became the leader of Opposition. He has not run for presidency since.

In 2010, he backed General Sarath Fonseka for presidency, and entered into coalition with Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Wickremesinghe drew immense flak and his image took a beating during the 2019 Easter bombings in which nearly 260 people died. The breakdown of communication between him and former President Maithripala Sirisena was blamed for intelligence failure that led to the deadly suicide bomb attacks.

He was also accused of protecting his friend, whom he appointed as the head of Central Bank, over allegations of insider trading. This soured relation between him and Sirisena who tried to remove him from the post of PM in 2018. Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the post for 52 days, and the entire move was criticised as constitutional coup. After the Supreme Court overturned the development, Wickremesinghe was reappointed as PM.

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