Sri Lanka's New President Is a Familiar Face: The 'Fox'

Selection of Ranil Wickremesinghe could reignite turmoil
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 20, 2022 8:00 AM CDT
Sri Lankan Lawmakers' Pick: Unpopular PM Will Be President
Sri Lanka's new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, June 11, 2022.   (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

Sri Lankan lawmakers elected the unpopular prime minister as their new president Wednesday, a choice that risked reigniting turmoil in the South Asian nation reeling from economic collapse. The crisis has already forced one Sri Lankan leader out, and a few hundred protesters quickly gathered after the vote to express their outrage that Ranil Wickremesinghe—a six-time prime minister whom they see as part of the problematic political establishment—would stay in power, reports the AP. The Guardian reports Wickremesinghe is sometimes called "the Fox," a nod to his "apparently wily ability to repeatedly resurrect his political career"; though he has been PM six times in the last 45 years, he has never finished a term.

Sri Lankans have taken to the street for months to demand their top leaders step down as the country of 22 million people spiraled into economic chaos. After demonstrators stormed the presidential palace and several other government buildings last week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled and then resigned. Much of the protesters' ire is focused on Rajapaksa and his family’s political dynasty, which ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. But many also blame Wickremesinghe for protecting Rajapaksa, and during demonstrations last week, crowds set his personal residence on fire and occupied his office.

Wednesday's vote means Wickremesinghe—who was also Rajapaksa’s finance minister and became acting president after the leader fled—will finish the presidential term ending in 2024. He can now also appoint a new prime minister. “I need not tell you what state our country is in," Wickremesinghe, 73, told fellow lawmakers after his victory was announced. "People are not expecting the old politics from us, they expect us to work together." Wickremesinghe has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs—he noted Wednesday that he had spent 45 years of his life in Parliament—and has led the talks on a bailout package for the bankrupt country with the International Monetary Fund. (Read more on where things stand with a possible IMF rescue.)

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