Ranil Wickremesinghe will be appointed Sri Lanka’s prime minister, a post he has held five times in the past, in an effort to bring stability to the ailing island nation, a party official and local media reports say.
“He was sworn in as prime minister tonight because several members of parliament asked him to take office and solve the country’s problems,” said Vajira Abeywardena, an official with the United National Party (UNP) headed by Wickremesinghe. Thursday.
Abeywardena said more than 160 lawmakers in the 225-member parliament support Wickremesinghe’s selection, but this could not be independently verified.
There was no immediate comment from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has the power to appoint the prime minister.
If Rajapaksa chooses Wickremesinghe, it would be seen as an attempt to end the violence sparked by the crisis and restore international credibility as his government negotiates a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and debt restructuring plans.
Local media reports said the 73-year-old UNP leader will be sworn in as prime minister at 6:30 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Thursday.
In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night, Rajapaksa stopped short of giving in to weeks of protests across the country calling for his resignation over the state of the country. worst economic recession since independence.
But in a bid to win over the opposition, which is demanding he step down before accepting any new government, the 72-year-old has vowed to relinquish most of his executive powers and set up a new cabinet this week.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the president, resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government supporters who had been protesting peacefully for weeks.
A Sri Lankan court on Thursday banned former prime ministerhis son-in-law Namal Rajapaksa and 15 allies from leaving the island over Monday’s violence.
Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe?
Wickremesinghe is seen as a pro-Western free-market reformer, which could facilitate bailout negotiations with the IMF and others.
Wickremesinghe had already been working closely with Rajapaksa to shake up the finance ministry and central bank and make sweeping changes to fiscal and monetary policy, the source said.
Sagala Ratnayaka, a national organizer for the UNP, told Al Jazeera that the parliamentarian agreed to be prime minister when “no one (else) was accepting this challenge.”
“It’s a terrible time to be prime minister in Sri Lanka,” he said. “This will be the most difficult race for him.”
Sri Lankans have suffered months of severe shortage of food, fuel and medicine and long power outages after the government, short of foreign exchange to pay its debts, stopped many imports.
The crisis led to violent protests and chaos which killed at least nine people and injured more than 200.
Security forces patrolling in armored personnel carriers with orders to shoot on sight anyone involved in looting or violence has largely restored order since then.
The curfew was lifted on Thursday morning but only re-imposed after a six-hour break that allowed Sri Lanka’s 22 million people to stock up on essentials.
Ratnayaka said Wickremesinghe “has a plan” to address the island’s unprecedented economic crisis. “He will set the plan in the next 1-2 days for the people.”
Political analyst Aruna Kulatunga told Al Jazeera that Wickremesinghe “will first try to stabilize the political landscape in Sri Lanka by bringing all political parties together to immediately introduce a new constitutional amendment.”
“This will restrict the extensive powers that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa enjoys,” he said, adding that Wickremesinghe would then embark on immediate negotiations with the IMF and World Bank.
“It will also start bilateral negotiations with traditional Sri Lankan donor countries such as Japan, Germany, India and China.”
Sri Lanka’s central bank chief warned Wednesday that the economy will “collapse beyond redemption” unless a new government is urgently appointed.
The central bank nearly doubled key interest rates and announced a $51 billion default on Sri Lanka’s foreign debt as part of the policy change, officials said.
However, Bhavani Fonseka of the Center for Policy Alternatives think tank believes Wickremesinghe’s appointment as prime minister will not stop the weeks-long protests.
“This appointment does not take away what the protesters want. The most important call of the protesters is the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But at the same time, we have to look at our other problems. We don’t have a prime minister and a cabinet. Therefore, there was a political vacuum. We need political and economic stability in our country. This is essential.”
Aanya Wipulasena contributed to this report from Colombo, Sri Lanka