COLOMBO – Five-time former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be reappointed Thursday to bring stability to the island nation, which is mired in political and economic crisis, a party official said.
“He will be sworn in as prime minister tonight because a number of MPs have asked him to take over and solve the country’s problems,” said Vajira Abeywardena, a United National Party official who chairs Wickremesinghe.
Abeywardena said more than 160 lawmakers in the 225-seat parliament support Wickremesinghe’s election, but this could not be independently verified. There was no immediate comment from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has the power to appoint the prime minister.
If Rajapaksa elects Wickremesinghe, it would be seen as an attempt to end the violence sparked by the crisis and restore international credibility while his government negotiates an International Monetary Fund bailout and debt restructuring plans.
The president’s brother Mahinda Rajakapsa resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters carried out violent attacks on peaceful anti-government protesters. His resignation automatically dissolved the cabinet, leaving an administrative vacuum.
Authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops on the streets of the capital on Wednesday after attacks on protesters sparked a wave of violence across the country. Nine people died and more than 200 were injured.
Security forces have been ordered to shoot people believed to be involved in the violence as sporadic arson and vandalism continue despite a strict nationwide curfew that began Monday night.
The demonstrators have called for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother because of the economic crisis.
Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy and has suspended $7 billion in foreign loan repayments due this year. The IMF has said that any short- or long-term aid will depend on the outcome of talks with creditors on loan restructuring. Sri Lanka must repay around $25 billion in foreign loans by 2026 out of a current total external debt of $51 billion.
The Treasury Department said earlier this month that the country’s usable foreign exchange reserves have fallen to just $25 million.
The shortage of foreign exchange has caused imports to fall sharply, leading to serious shortages of essentials such as fuel, cooking gas, food and medicines. For months, people have had to wait in long lines to buy limited supplies, and many have come back empty-handed.
If selected, Wickremesinghe is likely to submit a cabinet list to the President for appointment, a power bestowed on him by the Constitution. If there are objections to the prime minister or the new cabinet, lawmakers can table a motion of no confidence in the speaker of the House of Representatives when the panel reconvenes on Tuesday. The motion is then debated and voted on.
Wickremesinghe, 73, has been a member of Parliament for 45 years. He has extensive international connections and is considered a capable negotiator.
His political party split in 2019 amid a leadership crisis and most of its senior members left the country to found a new party, which is currently the country’s main opposition.
Wickremesinghe’s reputation was damaged during his earlier tenure as prime minister when he found himself in a difficult power-sharing arrangement with former President Maithripala Sirisena. An internal conflict and communications breakdown between him and Sirisena has been blamed for intelligence loopholes that led to the Easter Sunday 2019 suicide bombings that killed more than 260 people.
He was also accused of shielding a friend, whom he appointed as central bank governor, from insider trading allegations.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/12/party-official-wickremesinghe-to-be-appointed-sri-lankan-pm/ Wickremesinghe is appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka