Sri Lanka’s new president-elect sworn in

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new president on Thursday to take charge of a bitterly angry nation he will remain in power amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new president on Thursday to take charge of a bitterly angry nation he will remain in power amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months to demand that their top leaders step down to take responsibility for the economic chaos that has left the country’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicines, fuel and food. While the protesters focused on the political Rajapaksa dynasty, Wickremesinghe also drew their ire as a perceived substitute for Rajapaksa.

The six-time Prime Minister had never held the highest post. But he easily won lawmakers’ secret ballot on Wednesday to end the term of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence last week and resigned.

His appointment drew mixed reactions, with some supporters lighting firecrackers as protesters continued to demand his resignation.

Wickremesinghe, 73, has extensive experience in diplomatic and international affairs and oversaw bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund. He won the support of 134 members in the 225-member parliament.

Lawmakers apparently saw him as the safest hands to lead the nation through the crisis, despite public anger at Wickremesinghe as an example of the nation’s problematic political establishment. During protests last week, mobs set fire to his personal residence and occupied his office.

After Wednesday’s vote, Wickremesinghe called on politicians to work together and pleaded for the country to move on. But protesters flocked to the presidential office instead, chanting, “Ranil, go home!

Protest leaders told reporters on Wednesday they did not accept Wickremesinghe’s nomination and urged him to stand down immediately.

Parliament’s selection goes against the “will of the people”, said protest leader and Catholic priest Jeewantha Peiris, adding that protests against Wickremesinghe would continue.

“We are the ones who sent Gotabaya home, and it is not a difficult task for us to send you (Wickremesinghe) home,” said Tampitiye Sugathananda, a Buddhist monk and protest leader who stood before the presidential office.

Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the country’s 8th executive president on Thursday morning before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya in a ceremony held at parliament in the capital, Colombo. He can now choose a new prime minister.

In one example of the unrest caused by the economic crisis, a power outage hampered live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony in Parliament. A parliament official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media said live coverage was to be provided by the state-owned independent television network.

In some areas, supporters of Wickremesinghe lit firecrackers and handed out sweets to celebrate his nomination as president, local media reported.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung wrote on Twitter that she was looking forward to working with Wickremesinghe, adding: “During these difficult times, it will be essential that all parties redouble their efforts to work together. to deal with the economic crisis, defend democracy and accountability. , and build a stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans.

Wickremesinghe said on Monday negotiations with the IMF were close to a conclusion and talks on aid from other countries had also made progress. He also said the government had taken steps to address fuel and cooking gas shortages.

On Wednesday, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told financial magazine Nikkei Asia that the organization hoped to complete bailout talks “as soon as possible”.

On Monday, in his role as interim president, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency which gave him broad authority to act in the interest of public safety and order. Authorities can search and detain people, and Wickremesinghe can also change or suspend any law. Parliament can regularly revise the law and it will expire without its approval.

Presidents of Sri Lanka are normally elected by the public. The responsibility rests with Parliament only if the presidency becomes vacant before the official end of the mandate. This happened once before, in 1993, when the then Prime Minister, Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, was chosen by Parliament without contest after the assassination of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, father of the current leader of the opposition.


Associated Press writer Krishan Francis contributed to this report.

Bharata Mallawarachi, Associated Press

Carol N. Valencia