Ranil Wickremesinghe: Sri Lanka's reformist Premiere

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Dec 17, 2018, 02:35 PM IST

File photo of Sri Lanka Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Born on 24 March 1979 in Colombo, Ranil Wickremesinghe is a lawyer by profession and comes from an affluent family.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's new prime minister on Sunday, making a remarkable comeback weeks after being ousted by President Maithripala Sirisena under controversial circumstances.

His reinstatement to power is being expected to end a political crisis gripping the country since October when he was surprisingly sacked.

Born on 24 March 1979 in Colombo, Ranil Wickremesinghe is a lawyer by profession and comes from an affluent family.
He was first known as the nephew of Sri Lanka's first executive president, Junius Jayewardene. 

He also received an honorary doctorate from Deakin University in Australia in 2017, for his significant contributions in reforms in economy, education and human rights.

Wickremesinghe began his political journey in 1994 when he became the leader of the United National Party (UNP) and progressed through its ranks.

Wickremesinghe was appointed as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government of JR Jayewardene and was soon promoted to the post of Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment and became the youngest cabinet minister of Sri Lanka.

Under the Presidency of Ranasinghe Premadasa, Wickremasinghe was appointed as the Minister of Industry, under which he initiated industrial reforms and established the Biyagama Special Economic Zone.

In 1989 he got appointed as the Leader of the House. 

On May 1993 Wickremesinghe came to power as he sworn in as prime minister after President Ranasinghe Premdana was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers and BV Wijetunga was appointed an acting president.

During his term, he was credited for pushing the country through an impressive economic transformation and was generally backed by the business community for his free-market policies.

He was made the minister of industries and leader of the house and then he went on to be prime minister for 16 months until Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance coalition came to power in 1994.

In the same year, he became the leader of the United National Party when party leader Gamini Dissanayake was killed by suspected rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers).

In the 1999 election, Wickremesinghe was nominated as United National Party's Presidential candidate. After a tense election campaign in the wake of the violent North Western Provincial Council election, Wickremesinghe lost in the presidential elections in what observers said was a sympathy vote for President Kumaratunga after she was injured in a bomb attack.

After the loss of the 1999 presidential elections, Wickremasinghe unsuccessfully led his party in the 2000 parliamentary elections, again losing out Kumaratunga's People's alliance.

However, in 2001 UNP/UNFGG-led by Wickremesinghe won 109 seats and People's Alliance was able to obtain only 77 seats. Consequently, he was able to form a new UNF government and sworn as the 17th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 9 December 2001.

During his prime ministerial tenure, Wickremesinghe managed a ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels - ending 20 years of civil war - brokered by Norwegian mediators in February 2002.

He also pushed close relations with its neighbours and West.

In July 2002 he met George W Bush, then President of the United States, the first time in 18 years a Sri Lankan leader met the US leader in the White House. 

This visit was primarily focused on building new relationships based on economic links between the United States and Sri Lanka. 

He also met then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Japan Junichiro Koizumi and the Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Many of these visits were focused on the issues regarding resolving the Ethnic Problem in Sri Lanka.

Wickramasinghe again lost power in 2004 in which Kumaratunga's alliance won 105 seats, defeating former who only got eight seats.

Kumaratunga commissioned Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.

In 2005 as well Wickramasinghe lost to Rajapaksa in the presidential election with a narrow margin.

Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term in January 2015 after calling for an early presidential election, two years ahead of schedule, ending a decade of rule that critics say had become increasingly authoritarian and marred by nepotism and corruption.

Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, a one-time ally of Rajapaksa who had defected in November the previous year and derailed what the president thought would be an easy win, took 51.3 per cent of the votes polled in the election. Rajapaksa got 47.6 per cent.

Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's new prime minister on August 21, 2015, and his alliance signed an agreement with President Maithripala Sirisena's party to work together in a national unity government to implement reform agenda.

Sri Lanka woke up to political uncertainty on October 27 after President Sirisena, who had sacked him on October 26 and installed former rival and Rajapaksa in his place.