PM Ranil Thanks PM Modi for Help to Nation; Leader May Give ‘Safe Passage to Rajapaksas’

Sri Lanka Crisis LIVE Updates: Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he looks forward to closer ties with India during his term and thanked India for its economic assistance to the country as it tackles the worst economic crisis since independence. Wickremesinghe, 73, was sworn-in as Sri Lanka’s 26th prime minister on Thursday to stabilise the country’s debt-ridden economy and end the political turmoil.

I want a closer relationship and I want to thank Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, Wickremesinghe said, referring to the Indian economic assistance to his country. His remarks came during a religious ceremony held here last night after he took the oath. India has committed more than $ 3 billion to debt-ridden Sri Lanka in loans, credit lines and credit swaps since January this year.

Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s prime minister for the sixth time on Thursday, though the veteran politician has never completed a full term in office.

The 73-year-old’s political career appeared to be drawing to a close before this week, when he agreed to helm a unity administration and help steer the South Asian island nation through a crippling economic crisis.

Latest updates on the story:

• The news that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been named Prime Minister has been welcomed with shock and incredulity in Sri Lanka, the BBC reported. Despite being in opposition, his apparent closeness to the Rajapaksa family has been a crucial factor. Many believe he shielded them when they lost power in 2015, the report said, adding that according to experts, Wickremesinghe may ensure their security or a safe passage amid the turbulent situation and heated protests.

• Wickremasinghe lost two presidential contests and led his party to a string of election defeats, prompting even his own supporters to dub him a “record loser”. He was nonetheless sworn in as prime minister again in 2015 after the election defeat of president Mahinda Rajapaksa after the opposition rallied behind him as a unity candidate against the authoritarian leader.

• His “Mr Clean” image was muddied later that year when his administration was rocked by an insider trading scam involving central bank bonds. A key accused in the multi-million dollar scam was the central bank chief at the time, Arjuna Mahendran, who was Wickremesinghe’s schoolmate and choice for the job. He was accused of cronyism during his tenure and failing to prosecute members of the previous Rajapaksa regime, members of which had been accused of graft, kickbacks and siphoning off public finances.

• Political conflict with the powerful Rajapaksa family also threw the country into crisis in 2018, with Mahinda taking over the premiership for six weeks before the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional. Wickremesinghe returns to office to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators, and later had to be rescued from his residence by the military. He will serve at the pleasure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s younger brother, who has fought off calls for his own resignation over the government’s mismanagement of the economic crisis.

• Wickremesinghe will be taking charge of a bankrupt nation in default of its $51-billion foreign debt and without money to import essential goods. His status as a pro-West, 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 last week. “We should start addressing the issues now, we can’t put it off any longer,” he added.

• The High Commission of India in Colombo said it looks forward to working with new Government of Sri Lanka formed in accordance with democratic processes. “High Commission of India hopes for political stability and looks forward to working with the Government of Sri Lanka formed in accordance with democratic processes pursuant to the swearing in of Hon’ble @RW_UNP as the Prime Minister of #SriLanka,” it tweeted. It said that India’s commitment to the people of Sri Lanka will continue.

• Members of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a section of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and several other parties have expressed their support to show majority for Wickremesinghe in Parliament, sources said. However, several factions opposed the move to appoint Wickremesinghe as the new Prime Minister. The veteran politician is seen as being close to the Rajapaksa clan. But he does not currently command much support within the Opposition or among the public. It remains to be seen if he can prove his majority in the 225-member Parliament.

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