wickremesinghe: Ranil Wickremesinghe: Political survivor, economist and friend of India

India on Wednesday backed parliamentary processes and democratic institutions to address the crisis in Sri Lanka hours after former prime minister and veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president.

“The Parliament of Sri Lanka today elected Ranil Wickremesinghe as President of Sri Lanka in pursuance of the provisions of the Sri Lankan Constitution. As a close friend and neighbor of Sri Lanka and as fellow citizens of democracy, we will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka’s search for stability and economic prosperity through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional frameworks,” the Indian High Commissioner tweeted in Colombo hours later the choice of Wickremesinghe.

India also categorically denied media reports that New Delhi was making political efforts to influence Sri Lankan leaders over the presidential election. “We have seen unfounded and purely speculative media reports of political-level efforts from India to influence political leaders in Sri Lanka regarding elections in the Sri Lankan Parliament for the office of President of Sri Lanka,” the Indian High Commission tweeted. India has pledged US$4 billion since the beginning of this year to help Lanka weather the economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe has been pro-India for decades and enjoys international acceptance, but his first priority must be tackling the crisis in the short-term and working towards a long-term solution. As a six-time prime minister, Wickremesinghe is not known to favor China, particularly Chinese military ambitions. Known as a technocrat and lawyer, Wickremesinghe has implemented successful business projects in the past.

Wickremesinghe is a wily politician and a survivor of many political battles. He won 134 of the 219 valid votes. After his win, Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka are in a very difficult situation and there are big challenges ahead. He previously ran unsuccessfully for president twice, but secured enough votes among lawmakers despite controlling only one seat – as leader of the United National Party (UNP). He has worked closely with India on several development projects over the years.

It has a reputation as a shrewd operator that has earned it the nickname Fox, and it recently negotiated a bailout with the IMF. He previously served as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka from 1993 to 1994, 2001 to 2004, 2015 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019. He was also leader of the opposition from 1994 to 2001 and from 2004 to 2015. A top family member politically, he is the nephew of JR Jayewardane, who was President for over a decade in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hopes to complete bailout talks with Sri Lanka “as soon as possible,” Nikkei Asia reported, citing IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. Speaking to Nikkei Asia in Tokyo, Georgieva said the fund was “deeply concerned for the well-being of the people of Sri Lanka,” which has been hit by severe shortages of fuel, food and other essentials after its foreign exchange reserves dried up.

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