On May 12, 2022 Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shocked the nation and world by announcing the appointment of Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe’s appointment is historic; this is the 6th time he will serve as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe’s appointment came days after his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign amidst violent protests across the country, fuelled by the economic and political crisis in Sri Lanka. This editorial will analyse Wickremesinghe’s track-record and his performance as Prime Minister thus far. It is now nearly end-June and we have passed the one-month mark for the Wickramasinghe premiership.
A look at the past: An analysis of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career
Wickremesinghe, 73, is part of an elite, politically-connected family in Sri Lanka. He served his first stint as Prime Minister after President Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993 and D. B. Wijetunga took over the presidency. Soon after, the UNP faced an electoral defeat, and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) became President of Sri Lanka. Subsequently, Wickremesinghe became the leader of the opposition and only became Prime Minister again in 2000, under the presidency of CBK. Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga had a strained relationship in during this period of cohabitation, resulting in the latter taking control of key ministries previously under the parliament and calling for early elections.
When Wickremesinghe contested the presidency, in 2005, he narrowly lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa with a deficit of approximately 150,000 votes. One of the main reasons cited for this outcomes was that the LTTE forcibly prevented voting from taking place in the Northern and Eastern provinces. These are areas where Wickremesinghe was expected to win.
In 2015, Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into coalition with a breakaway faction of the ruling regime, with then-SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena becoming President in January 2015. However, once in power, a number of disputes emerged within the political leadership, such as the notorious Central Bank bond scam. Since the scandal involved Wickremasinghe’s close associate, the incident was critical in eroding Wickremesinghe’s reputation and legitimacy. Soon afterwards, Wickremasinghe was illegally sacked by President Sirisena, triggering a constitutional coup and a chaotic political situation in Sri Lanka. It is against this past track-record that Mr. Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister on May 12, 2022.
Six times lucky? Will Wickremesinghe be able to save Sri Lanka from economic and political chaos?
Soon after taking office, Wickremesinghe gave an exclusive interview to the BBC. In it, Wickremesinghe conceded that he faces a very difficult job and things could get worse for Sri Lanka before it gets better. He noted that “he believes people should have three meals a day. It’s a challenge, but I am going to meet this challenge somehow”.
He also noted in this interview that he will work towards securing financing through negotiations with the IMF and friendly nations, especially neighbouring India.
Wickremesinghe’s interview may have struck a positive note, but the realities on the ground in Sri Lanka since that date are concerning. The political situation does not appear to have altered since. President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is still in office and talks of constitutional amendments, including the 21st Amendment to the Constitution are ongoing. Yet, nothing concrete has been achieved. On the economic front, the situation is worsening rapidly. The prices of commodities continue to climb, the fuel queues continue and there has been no respite in terms of the country’s debt situation. Wickremasinghe’s tenure in office is looking increasingly unstable.
In lieu of a conclusion
In summary, the political situation in Sri Lanka this June 2022 appears very difficult indeed. It appears very unlikely that the introduction of Ranil Wickremesinghe will improve Sri Lanka’s economic and political situation anytime soon. Mr Wickremesinghe faces an almost impossible job at an impossible time. Will he be able to last as Prime Minister or will he face the same fate as his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the people calling on him to leave his post as he fails to deliver on his promises?