Six-Time PM & Now Sri Lanka's New President: Ranil 'The Fox' Wickremesinghe

Being unpopular among the masses, his Colombo residence was set ablaze by protesters just a few days ago.

5 min read
Edited By :Padmashree Pande

Video Producer: Naman Shah

Video Editor: Shohini Bose

One just can't keep him out of the limelight.

Despite his failure to resolve the country's financial crisis, six-time prime minister of Sri Lanka and the incumbent acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, after unsuccessfully running for president twice in the past, was elected as the eighth executive president by the parliament on 20 July.

"I thank the Parliament for this honour," the 73-year-old was quoted as saying by news agency Reuters. "Our divisions are now over," he added in his address to the Parliament.

Often referred to as 'The Fox', Wickremesinghe is deeply unpopular among the masses, with his private residence in Colombo being set on fire by the protesters just a few days ago.

One of the key demands of the protesters (please refer to point number two in the pamphlet attached below), the 'GotaGoGama' activists, had been the resignation of both Wickremesinghe, and former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Being unpopular among the masses, his Colombo residence was set ablaze by protesters just a few days ago.

Point number two of the plan demanded that Ranil Wickremesinghe resigned "with immediate effect."

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Far from resigning, he is the most powerful person in the country right now.


From PM to Acting President to President-Elect

Wickremesinghe was sworn in as a Member of Parliament on 23 June 2021, with his party, the United National Party (once a dominant party in Sri Lankan politics), suffering its worst defeat ever, winning only 2.15 percent of the votes. He, nevertheless, became the sole parliamentary representative of the UNP.

In May 2022, amid the never-ending economic turmoil in Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe was reappointed as prime minister for the sixth time by the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Then, on 9 July 2022, the day that saw Gotabaya's house being stormed by protesters, Wickremesinghe offered to resign. His own residence was set alight on the same day.

While he never officially resigned, he was appointed as the acting president on 13 July, after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on the same day (who himself resigned on 14 July).

The constitutional crisis demanded that the parliament elect a new president. The election was held on 20 July with three main contestants - Wickremesinghe, Anura Kumara Dissanayake (leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), and Dullas Alahapperuma (a dissident of the party of the Rajapaksas, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna).

'The Fox,' despite being so deeply resented by the Sri Lankan people, went on to win 134 votes in the parliament, securing his position as the next president of the country.

Political Career

Wickremesinghe entered politics in the 1970s and was made deputy foreign affairs minister at the age of 28, making him one of the youngest people in the country's political history to take up such a senior post.

He was first appointed the country's PM in 1993, after the assassination of former premier Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

His first term in office, however, lasted only a little more than a year. His second stint as PM came in 2002, when he led his party from the front and won the country's general election in a landslide victory.

Wickremesinghe had taken over at a time the country was still reeling from a brutal civil war between Tamil guerrillas and the Sri Lankan government.

His main task then was to garner international support to rebuild the war-torn country. As a result of his international outreach, Sri Lanka received more than $4 billion in development aid.

He also started peace talks with the LTTE during this time and inked an all-important ceasefire with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, for which he was widely praised. A tussle with the president, however, had him sacked in 2004.

Wickremesinghe has lost two presidential elections and led his party to a long line of election defeats. This led to the tag of "record loser" being attached to him, including by some of his own supporters.


The Easter Bombings

When Maithripala Sirisena became president of Sri Lanka in 2015 after defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa, he appointed Wickremesinghe as the prime minister on the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between their parties.

However, he was removed from the post of PM in October 2018 by Sirisena amid rising debt and a slump in the economy, and Mahinda was appointed PM in his place.

The decision was challenged by Wickremesinghe in the country's Supreme Court, leading to a constitutional stalemate that saw him returning as PM eventually by end-2018.

The biggest failure of the government with Wickremesinghe as prime minister and Sirisena as president came in April 2019, when 269 people, including at least 45 foreigners, were killed and hundreds more injured after suicide bombings in churches and luxury hotels on the day of Easter.

The attack, undertaken by a radical Islamic terrorist group, was seen as the most gruesome since the civil war in Sri Lanka came to an end, and effectively brought the country to a standstill.

The attack was blamed on an "intelligence failure" on the part of the government and "miscommunication" between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. He resigned as PM in 2019 after the attacks.


But He's Back Again

And he has an economy to fix, and protesters to appease.

It is really no secret that Sri Lankans have been skipping meals and lining up for hours to try to buy fuel. The situation with fuel especially is so dire that towards the end of June, the government had to suspend the sales for non-essential purposes.

The UN World Food Program says nearly nine out of 10 families are skipping meals or pacing out their food supplies, while 3 million are receiving emergency humanitarian aid.

The government owes more than $50 billion and is unable to even make interest payments on the loans it has taken, let alone actually pay back the loan.

According to official data, food prices have risen by almost 60% and the tourism sector is not doing any better than before the financial crisis began. Foreign Direct Investment into the country continues to remain scarce.

On top of that, Sri Lankans are not happy with him or the Rajapaksas. His return to power is bound to spark protests. As one youth activist told The Quint moments after Wickremesinghe was elected as president:

"Our MPs have clearly shown that they don't stand with the people's demands. We are very disappointed and afraid of what the future of Sri Lanka will look like. Everything we have been fighting for to get the Rajapaksas out now seems to have gone back to square one with Ranil in power. He is basically more of a Rajapaksa than the family members themselves."
Anjalee Wanduragala, Youth Activist in Sri Lanka

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Edited By :Padmashree Pande
Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More