Sri Lanka reinstates ousted PM Wickremesinghe

President Maithripala Sirisena (right) handing over documents to reappointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
President Maithripala Sirisena (right) handing over documents to reappointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

COLOMBO • Sri Lanka's President yesterday reappointed as prime minister the same man he sacked from the job nearly two months ago, ending a power struggle that paralysed the island nation.

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose shock dismissal in late October threw Sri Lanka into an unprecedented constitutional crisis, was sworn in at a closed-door ceremony in the President's office in Colombo.

The 69-year-old had refused to step aside since being dumped and replaced by controversial strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa – leaving the country with two men claiming the premiership and no functioning government.

The ousted Premier had long asserted that his dismissal was illegal, a view supported by Sri Lanka's Parliament, which six times voted against Mr Rajapaksa's claim to rule during tumultuous sessions that erupted into brawls.

President Maithripala Sirisena had refused to bow to pressure as the country drifted, declaring he would never reappoint Mr Wickremesinghe and deriding his once ally in public speeches as their alliance imploded.

The acrimony between the two was underscored yesterday when Mr Sirisena berated Mr Wickremesinghe and his supporters at length, following the swearing-in, one legislator present said.

After the frosty reception, which Mr Sirisena closed to the press, the reinstated Prime Minister thanked Parliament and "all those who campaigned to restore democracy".

 
 

"The first priority is to restore normality," he said in an address to the nation. "The work we initiated had been brought to a standstill."

There was no immediate reaction from Mr Sirisena or Mr Rajapaksa, who stood down last Saturday. But Mr Namal Rajapaksa, his son and also a legislator, publicly extended his congratulations to Mr Wickremesinghe.

India, which like the United States and others in the global community urged the warring factions to resolve their differences, welcomed an end to hostilities.

"This is a reflection of the maturity demonstrated by all political forces, and also of the resilience of Sri Lankan democracy and its institutions," India's Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday.

Mr Wickremesinghe said he will form a Cabinet in the coming days. Officials said priority will be given to the 2019 budget – without which Sri Lanka risks government shutdown and defaulting on its sizeable foreign debt.

There were doubts about the country's ability to repay US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) due to bond holders by Jan 10 without a legitimate administration in power.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2018, with the headline 'Sri Lanka reinstates ousted PM Wickremesinghe'. Print Edition | Subscribe