Ranil Has His Work Cutout

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UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister for a record sixth time, before President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at President’s House Colombo yesterday.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is the 31st Premier of the 74-year-old independent Sri Lanka. 

 His predecessors being D.S. Senanayake, his son Dudley (four times), Sir John Kotelawala, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, W. Dahanayake, Sirima Bandaranaike (four times), J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa (twice), D.B. Wijetunga (twice), Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake (twice), the President’s older brother and two times President  Percy Mahendra (Mahinda) Rajapaksa (four) and D.M. Jayaratne.

Though Wickremesinghe is serving a record six times as Premier, he was elected only twice, at the December 2004 and August 2015 Parliamentary Poll, while on the other four occasions he was appointed, i.e. in May 1993, subsequent to the events after the assassination of President Premadasa, January 2015 upon the election of President Maithripala Sirisena, December 2018, after the failed political coup of Maithipala and Mahinda and, subsequently, now.

Wickremesinghe’s yesterday’s appointment was by chance. As such he has no direct mandate from the masses to govern as their Premier.

Wickremesinghe’s appointment was possible after SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa (the above Premadasa senior’s son) refused the Premiership on the grounds that he would accept that stewardship only if the President resigned (a position he later amended).

Sajith’s argument was that the masses responsible for SLPP leader Mahinda’s removal in a bloody one-day revolution that took place on Monday (9 May), wanted not only Mahinda out, but also the President.

The masses’ grouse, to put it mildly, against the Rajapaksa brothers were manifold. They included the astronomical rise in the cost of living, inflation at over 20 per cent, shortages of essentials, queuing up for such for hours, sometimes for more than a day, but more often than not returning empty handed, hours long daily power cuts, paddy harvests beginning from Maha 2021-22 wrecked due to wrong policies, a thriving black market, nepotism, cronyism and corruption.

The backdrop for this situation is the lack of US dollars in the country and a foolish policy decision taken by the President in April 2021 to ban chemical fertiliser, which order was subsequently reversed in November 2021, but too late to undo the damage already done, consequently impacting Yala 2022 as well.

Lack of dollars due to corruption, started with vigour during Mahinda’s Presidency (17 November 2005 – 8 January 2015), led by obtaining expensive foreign commercial loans of shorter tenures, more often than not, for dubious infrastructure projects.

The economy requires dollars because Sri Lanka is import dependent, needing dollars to import essentials like fuel, including cooking gas, coal, required to provide electricity, rice, sugar, wheat and the list goes on. 

The President, addressing the nation on Wednesday, said that a new Government and Cabinet will be formed by this week, while the now defunct 19th Amendment, which curbed key executive powers of the President, will be revived.

Wickremesinghe, reading the pulse of the people right, realised that what the masses wanted were not the removal of Mahinda and the President, but to first put the economy right, translated by making essentials once more freely available which will ipso facto end shortages, queues, power cuts, a black market, nepotism,  cronyism, bribery and corruption. And the other key expectations, to bring down the CoL, inflation and make jobs once more available to the youth of this country.

Therefore, Wickremesinghe’s first priority is to put the economy right. He has the mandate from the President to do that, at the expense of his family, including elder brother Mahinda who pivoted him to power in the first place.

 Wickremesinghe has inherited an economy similar to what his uncle J.R. Jayewardene inherited 45 years ago in 1977. An advantage which Wickremesinghe has, unlike Jayewardene, is that he has the backing of India, the root cause of Sri Lanka’s current problems.

Jobs and the free availability of essentials, if Wickremesinghe only gets those right in his 6th tenure of office as opposed to Jayewardene, who got only one chance, then the Presidency may be just one step away from him.