Sri Lanka: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa names elder brother Mahinda as PM after Wickremesinghe resigns

PTI COLOMBO | Updated on November 20, 2019

File Photo of Mahinda Rajapaksa.   -  Reuters

Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday named his elder brother and former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister after incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe announced his resignation from the post following the election debacle.

Mahinda, the main opposition leader, will be appointed as Prime Minister after incumbent Wickremesinghe steps down formally on Thursday, his spokesman Rohan Weliwita was quoted as saying by Times Online.

The former president, who will function as Prime Minister of the caretaker cabinet until the general election, is expected to be sworn in at 1 pm before assuming office at around 3 pm, it added.

Mahinda was appointed the Prime Minister on October 26, 2018 by the then President Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked Wickremesinghe in a controversial move that plunged the country into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

He resigned in December as two crucial Supreme Court decisions made the former strongman’s efforts to cling to premiership untenable.

The apex court later unanimously declared that the dissolution of Parliament by Sirisena was “illegal“.

Mahinda won power in 2005 and went on to become South Asia’s longest-serving leader. He became the country’s youngest ever parliamentarian in 1970 at the age of 24.

The two brothers led a decisive campaign that helped end the island nation’s three decade long civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe announced his resignation, days after the ruling party’s candidate lost the presidential election to Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa defeated Wickremesinghe’s deputy Sajith Premadasa.

In a special statement in Sinhala language, the Prime Minister said that he had met President Rajapaksa on Tuesday and discussed the future of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Colombo Gazette newspaper reported.

He said that while his Government still has the majority in Parliament it was decided to respect the mandate given to Rajapaksa at the Presidential election and step down.

“I will step down to allow the new president to establish a new government. I will officially inform him of my decision tomorrow,” Wickremesinghe said.

He has been the leader of the United National Party (UNP) since 1994 and served as Sri Lanka’s prime minister for a total of three terms.

He was under pressure to quit and handover the government to the opposite camp after Rajapaksa won the presidential election on Saturday.

The UNP leader faced a revolt since Premadasa’s defeat, a regular occurrence during the last 25 years whenever the UNP lost a major election.

Harin Fernando, a minister from the party’s younger brigade, told reporters that they want Wickremesinghe to quit the party leadership and name Premadasa his successor for both the party leadership and the post of the main opposition leader.

“We will form our own party if he did not make the necessary changes this time,” Fernando told reporters.

There will be a caretaker cabinet of 15 members to run the government until Rajapaksa will be constitutionally able to dissolve parliament after February 2020.

Reuters adds

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will resign from office this week, said a spokesman for his office on Wednesday, a move that comes just days after his party's candidate lost a presidential election over the weekend.

“The resignation letter will be sent (to the President) by tomorrow,” Sudharshana Gunawardena, a spokesman for the Prime Minister told Reuters on Wednesday.

Also read: Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins Sri Lankan presidential election

Sources had earlier told Reuters that Wickremesinghe's exit was imminent and local media separately reported that new Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would soon name an interim cabinet to govern the island until the next election, expected around April.

Published on November 20, 2019

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