Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Sri Lankan prime minister reappointed

AFP, COLOMBO

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wipes his brow as he speaks to his supporters at his official residence in Colombo yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Sri Lanka’s president yesterday reappointed as prime minister the same man he sacked from the job nearly two months ago, ending a messy power struggle that paralyzed the island nation.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose shock dismissal in late October threw Sri Lanka into a 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 rival leaders and no functioning government.

The ousted prime minister long asserted that his dismissal was illegal, a view supported by Sri Lanka’s parliament, which six times voted against Rajapaksa’s claim to rule during tumultuous sessions that erupted into brawls.

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

The acrimony between the two was yesterday underscored when Sirisena barred journalists from attending the swearing-in ceremony — leaving it to Wickremesinghe’s legislators to announce the appointment.

“We thank the citizens of the country who fought the illegal seizure of power and ensured that democracy was restored,” his United National Party of Sri Lanka tweeted.

A photograph of the foes smiling and bowing at each other circulated widely on social media, and crackers were burst in celebration in parts of the country.

A spokesman for Wickremesinghe said that he was expected to form a Cabinet in the coming days, with priority given to next year’s 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 due to bond holders by Jan. 10 without a legally constituted administration.

On Wednesday, the legislature voted overwhelmingly to demand the reinstatement of Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena’s resistance became untenable after the Sri Lankan Supreme Court last week ruled that he acted outside the constitution when he dissolved parliament early last month and called early elections.

The court also confirmed that Rajapaksa could not exercise the powers of a prime minister until he proved his legitimacy — which without enough support in parliament was impossible.

Sirisena’s disputed appointee pressed ahead, forming a purported government and naming a Cabinet even as parliament cut off state funds to his office.

However, on Saturday, Rajapaksa — who presided over the bloody end to Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 — backed down from the post of prime minister, signaling that the 51-day standoff had come to a bitter close.

The strongman, whose past administrations were accused of gross rights abuses and whose family still holds considerable sway in Sri Lanka, promised to make a comeback at local council elections.

“There is no doubt at all that the people who stood by us since 2015 will continue to support us in the future as well,” he said, addressing his close associates. “We will bring the forces opposed to the country down to their knees by organizing the people.”

His aides said that he was returning a fleet of limousines he had used since his disputed appointment.

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