Sri Lanka PM sworn in for another term

He secures support of second-biggest party to form a new government of national unity

COLOMBO • Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's Prime Minister yesterday for another term after securing the backing of the country's second-biggest party for a new government of national unity.

The 66-year-old took the oath of office in a Buddhist ceremony in the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena, cementing an alliance between the two that successfully fought off a comeback bid by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

His centre-right United National Party (UNP), which won Monday's polls but fell seven seats short of an outright majority, will team up with Sirisena loyalists in the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP).

Details of the deal were not immediately known, but the SLFP is expected to secure portfolios in a Cabinet to be named next Monday.

The Tamil National Alliance, which holds 16 seats in the 225-seat Parliament, has said it will not join a coalition but has promised the new government "issue-based" support.

"A broad-based consensus at the political level will create the kind of political stability and policy stability that we need," said Professor Sirimal Abeyratne, who is from Colombo University.

The formation of the coalition will put Mr Sirisena in a position to advance reforms begun when he quit Mr Rajapaksa's government and in January defeated the nationalist strongman's bid to win a third term as president.

These include changes to the Constitution to make the government more open and accountable on the Indian Ocean island of 21 million as well as to simplify its complex election rules.

An unlikely veteran of the cutthroat world of Sri Lankan politics, Mr Wickremesinghe campaigned on a pledge to create one million new jobs in five years.

The pro-Western lawyer is backed by the business community, but as head of the minority government formed in January, he pursued more people-friendly policies, in line with Mr Sirisena's push to overcome the legacy of a civil war that ended in 2009.

Mr Wickremesinghe has served twice before as premier, from 1993 to 1994 and from 2001 to 2004.

Mr Rajapaksa, 69, who attended yesterday's swearing in, had hoped to become prime minister himself. But he conceded on Tuesday that his dream had "faded away" after results showed a surge in voter support for Mr Wickremesinghe's UNP.

The new government is likely to introduce legislation to establish independent commissions to run the police, public service and judiciary.

The UNP is also keen to revive economic growth that slowed to a two-year low, with moves to make it easier for the private sector to do business.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Sri Lanka PM sworn in for another term'. Print Edition | Subscribe