July 22, 2022
DHAKA – After months of mayhem across the country, Sri Lanka finally got a new president in Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, a veteran politician and six-time prime minister. On Thursday, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as its 9th president, before he was overwhelmingly elected in a parliamentary vote the previous day. According to media reports, he is expected to name his prime minister soon and form a unity government to manage the grinding economic crisis that the country finds itself in, as well as quell protests that continue to rock the streets.
But his replacing the unpopular Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to resign and flee the country in the face of protests, may not have the desired effect any time soon, as obvious from the angry chants on the streets. Many protesters believe Wickremesinghe is not the president Sri Lanka needed at this juncture, pointing to the fact that he was backed by the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party and thus may still protect the interests of the Rajapaksa family. The protests in Sri Lanka came in the wake of shortages of fuel and other basic necessaries and the inability of the government to deal with the crisis. As protests grew, the mob on the streets became more and more violent, demanding the ouster of a corrupt regime.
Wickremesinghe, in a speech, addressed the gravity of the situation, saying that the country was facing massive challenges and that the government would have to work on a new strategy as per the aspirations of the people. He invited all to work together. But observers believe that Sri Lanka may see more political unrest as the new president announced a crackdown on protesters, condemning them as law breakers. He vowed to deal with them firmly, not allowing a “minority of protesters to suppress the aspirations of the silent majority clamouring for a change in the political system.” Earlier, as acting president, he extended a state of emergency that gave police and security forces sweeping powers to evict protesters from state buildings that they had occupied.
His stance so far made it clear that he wouldn’t allow violence to distract the new government from the more urgent task at hand: finding a way out of the economic crisis. But earning public trust is extremely important, otherwise tension may continue to be an impeding factor. We hope the new government will work together with all stakeholders, including members of the public, to bring peace and stability in the country soon.