Sri Lanka’s new president seeks unity government amid crisis
The 73-year-old political veteran will complete Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.
The new president of Sri LankaRanil Wickremesinghe, took office this Thursday, 21, in a discreet ceremony in Parliament and, according to those responsible, is already working to form a unity government to face the serious economic crisis.
Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s six-time prime minister, was elected president the day before by parliament, where he won an overwhelming majority to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned last week after fleeing the country amid protests.
The 73-year-old political veteran will complete Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024. He takes over a bankrupt country that is negotiating a rescue plan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and whose 22 million inhabitants face severe food shortages, fuel and medicine.
The new president was sworn in in a highly guarded ceremony in the Parliament building, in the presence of the police chief and senior army officers. Official sources said the new ruler would quickly form a cabinet to try to get the country out of its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain.
Wickremesinghe’s cabinet is expected to include several opposition lawmakers. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, who backed a rival candidate in Wednesday’s vote, said he had met with Wickremesinghe to discuss how to protect the country from further “misery and catastrophes”.
“We, as the opposition, will offer our constructive support to efforts to alleviate human suffering,” Premadasa tweeted on Thursday.
One of the new government’s priorities is to continue bailout negotiations with the IMF and restructure its unsustainable foreign debt.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has blamed the Sri Lankan financial crisis on heavily indebted Chinese investments.
“The Chinese have a lot of influence and can make a good case for their investments,” CIA chief Bill Burns told the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday. He added that Sri Lanka “made some really stupid bets on its economic future”, attributing the current “catastrophic” economic conditions to these decisions.
After attending a Buddhist temple on the Wednesday after his election, Wickremesinghe has vowed to take a hard line against “troublemakers” trying to disrupt his government.