Sri Lanka’s new president Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in on Thursday. He is working, according to officials, to form a unity government to pull the country out of the historic economic crisis that has been undermining it for months.
Mr. Wickremesinghe had been elected head of state the day before by parliament with the support of the clan of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned last week after fleeing the country shaken by a wave of demonstrations against his power.
Then Prime Minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe therefore had to assume the interim presidency. On Thursday, the 73-year-old president-elect was sworn in before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya in the closely guarded parliamentary precinct, according to a statement from his office.
Sri Lanka’s police chief and army high command stood behind the new president during his swearing-in ceremony, in the presence of Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Abeywardana.
The brief ceremony was to be broadcast live by local television. But it was inexplicably interrupted as Mr Wickremesinghe and his wife Maithree entered the building after a military parade.
The authorities indicated that an investigation had been opened into the causes of this unexpected breakdown. “An investigation has been opened to explain the interruption of the broadcast,” a senior defense official told AFP.
According to official sources, the new head of state should form a strong government of up to 30 ministers whose mission will be to get the country out of the worst economic crisis in its history.
He inherits a country of 22 million inhabitants ravaged by a historic economic crisis which has suffered for months from power cuts, shortages of food, medicine and fuel. Public anger peaked when tens of thousands of protesters stormed the residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, pressured to flee and resign.
The island, which defaulted in April on its foreign debt of 51 billion dollars, does not even have foreign currency to finance its essential imports, and now relies on a rescue plan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A broad coalition
Mr. Wickremesinghe, elected for the remaining period of Mr. Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024, has set out to find a prime minister to form a government.
He could appoint Dinesh Gunawardena, a former civil service minister and fervent supporter of the Rajapaksa clan. He is a trade union leader who represents a small nationalist party allied to the SLPP, the Rajapaksa party. Mr. Gunawardena and Mr. Wickremesinghe have known each other since they were three years old and studied together at the prestigious Royal College in Colombo.
But according to political sources, at least two other personalities are also in the running. “Some MPs from the main opposition will join the cabinet,” said a source close to Mr. Wickremesinghe, adding that he was keen to bring together a coalition of all parties.
On Wednesday evening, after his election, Mr. Wickremesinghe went to meditate in a Buddhist temple where, in front of the press, he warned “troublemakers” resorting to undemocratic means, promising to show severity if they were trying to disrupt his government.
“If we try to overthrow the government, occupy the president’s office and the prime minister’s office, it’s not about democracy, and we will deal with those with firmness,” he said. “I am not a friend of the Rajapaksa, I am a friend of the people,” he also insisted.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is hated by the protest movement, which considers him an ally and protector of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The demonstrations will “obviously” continue, assures Nuzly Hameem, engineer and activist, but “we are exhausted, it has been going on for four months”.
Officials said Wickremesinghe was due to hold his first official meeting with the army command and police chief at the Defense Ministry on Thursday to discuss the security situation. Under the Constitution, the President is also the Minister of Defense and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
On Monday, Mr. Wickremesinghe, then still interim president, extended the state of emergency, which gives police and security forces sweeping powers.
This article has been published automatically. Sources: ats / afp
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