Hours after his being elected as the president of Sri Lanka by Rajapaksa-loyalist MPs, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is known as the wily fox sent a secret message to Gotabaya Rajapaksa stating “Stay low for some time. Let me tackle”. Meaning, the Sri Lankan president has clearly signaled that he would do anything for saving Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other looters of the Rajapaksa dynasty.
Meanwhile, patriotic Sri Lankan protesters have returned to the streets of the capital saying, they will continue their week-long uprising after parliament voted in acting leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s new president.
According to media reports, hundreds of protesters gathered at the GotaGoGama site in Colombo, where only last week they had celebrated Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation as president.
Although Ranil Wickremesinghe pretends to be a “clean man” and “free from corruption”, he was not untouched by series of corruption allegations and was also accused in being involved in an insider trading scam at the central bank.
After he became prime minister in 2015, Wickremesinghe has been committedly protecting the corrupt and looter Rajapaksa family – who were political opponents but with whom he had close personal ties for years– from facing prosecution over alleged corruption and human rights abuses. While investigations were initiated against the family, they were stalled and ultimately came to nothing, because of influence of Wickremesinghe.
By the time Wickremesinghe had resigned as prime minister in 2019, there was mass public disenchantment with him, while his party, the once dominant United National Party (UNP) had fractured after a group of MPs broke away and formed a new opposition. He barely gained any votes in the 2020 parliamentary elections and he had to enter parliament as an MP through a list system for his party, the sole parliamentary representative for his once powerful UNP.
But it was in May this year that Ranil Wickremesinghe was brought back in from political near-obsolescence to be Sri Lanka’s caretaker president, as the country grappled through its worst economic crisis since independence.
He took on the post at the special request of embattled president and longtime friend Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was facing an ongoing political crisis including mass protests demanding he resign.
Having earned the nickname of ‘The Fox’ for his acumen of reviving his repeatedly sagging political fortune in Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, six-time prime minister since he entered politics in 1977, has had to face corruptions allegations too, and serious ones at that.
In 2015, Ranil Wickermesinghe was accused of being involved in an insider trading scam at the Sri Lankan Central Bank. He always maintained his innocence. This scam broke after He was sworn in as prime minister again in 2015 after the election defeat of president Mahinda Rajapaksa after the opposition rallied behind him as a unity candidate.
What fueled the air of credence to his involvement in the while affair was the fact that Arjuna Mahendran, Wickremesinghe’s school friend and choice for the job, was back then at the centre of the scam.
Also, called The Bond Scandal, the whole affairs tarnished the image of Sri Lanka and shook the confidence of international investors in the country. Reports from back in 2015 say that foreign investors were rather unmoved in their assessment of Sri Lanka as mired in corruption even after prime minister Wickremesinghe and his other senior colleagues had appeared before a commission of inquiry as a mark of good governance.
President Sirisena had appointed the commission to investigate the sale of the bonds after opposition lawmakers went up in arms for an independent inquiry. The Opposition had claimed that the bond issue had, adversely, raised government borrowing costs by over US$1 billion over the two years. This was when, according to reports, Sri Lanka back then had just US$7 billion in foreign currency reserves, while payments of over US$5 billion were to be due starting 2019.
Sri Lankan protesters return to the streets
Addressing the crowds, protest leaders refused to accept six-time Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, 73, as the new head of state, holding him partly responsible for the country’s unprecedented economic and political crisis.
“As you know, the parliament elected a new president today, but that president is not new to us, it is not the people’s mandate”, Wasantha Mudalige, the leader of Inter University Student Federation, told the crowds.
“We managed to kick out Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who secured 6.9 million votes, but Ranil Wickremesinghe has now secured that seat from the back seat”, he added. “Ranil isn’t our president … the people’s mandate is on the streets”.
Protesters have also accused Wickremesinghe of making deals with the powerful Rajapaksa family to outmaneuver political rivals.
At the protests on Wednesday, speaker after speaker – including Buddhist monks, Catholic clergy, students and artists – refused to endorse the parliament’s choice.
“Ranil Wickremesinghe should know that millions in the streets are much bigger than 134”, said artist Jagath Manuwarna, referring to 134 lawmakers who voted for Wickremesinghe.
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