Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in President of Sri Lanka on Thursday, is expected to appoint long-time Rajapaksa loyalist and senior politician Dinesh Gunawardena as Prime Minister, a source close to the President’s office told The Hindu.
Further, Wickremesinghe will continue with the last-appointed Cabinet until opposition parties are “ready to cooperate” in an all-party government, the source said, requesting anonymity. Cabinet members will be sworn in Friday morning, the President’s office said.
President Wickremesinghe, who faced fierce public criticism for joining the discredited Rajapaksa government earlier, has invited all parties to join his government to combat the national economic crisis, which set off political upheaval and led to changes at the island nation’s helm. Opposition parties are yet to signal their willingness.
Following a party leaders’ meeting on Thursday, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said in a tweet: “Met with President @RW_UNP [Ranil Wickremesinghe] at the party leaders’ meeting today. Had a cordial and frank exchange of ideas. Reiterated the opposition’s determination to provide constructive support to avert misery and disaster.”
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Force) Leader said he proposed to strengthen the committee system in parliament to achieve national consensus “rather than dishing out ministerial portfolios to political opportunists resulting in a drain of scarce national resources.”
SJB lawmaker Eran Wickramaratne said the party has received no “formal invitation” so far, to be part of the government, following President Wickremesinghe’s open invitation to all parties in Parliament.
“We will hold talks when that happens. Meanwhile, we will continue participating in parliamentary processes constructively,” he told The Hindu.
Wickremesinghe, who served as Prime Minister—his sixth stint—since May and as Acting President more recently, rose to Presidency winning a key parliamentary vote on Wednesday, after mass protests dislodged Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the country’s highest office last week. The ousted leader fled the island and is now in Singapore, where he has been granted a 14-day short-term visit pass, according to the city-state’s immigration authorities.
Chandrika wishes Ranil
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga wished Wickremesinghe “good luck and success”, as he takes over the reins of the country “at a moment when it is besieged with unprecedented challenges.”
“I have no doubt President Wickremesinghe will remember that this change was made entirely possible by the extraordinary activism of the young civil activists of our country, with the full support of a vast majority of citizens,” she said in a message posted on Facebook, underscoring the need for “visionary leaders with far sightedness and generosity of heart.”
“Their [citizens’] strident call is for a regime that governs in the people’s interest and not its own, where the rule of law, honesty, and good governance will reign supreme,” Kumaratunga said, adding that it will be a “difficult task”.
Sri Lanka is facing one of its worst economic downturns in history, putting citizens through untold suffering amid shortages of essentials and soaring living costs.
Wickremesinghe’s government is expected to soon resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has made its support contingent on Colombo successfully restructuring its foreign debt. In April, Sri Lanka decided to default on its $51 billion-worth foreign loans in the wake of a Balance of Payments crisis that led to a severe dollar crunch.
(Meera Sreenivasan is The Hindu Correspondent in Colombo)