Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a lawyer-turned-politician who has been in parliament for 45 years, has made a remarkable comeback almost two years after his United National Party (UNP) was defeated and failed to win a single seat in the election. General elections held in August 2020.
The 73-year-old leader, who is believed to be close to India, was appointed by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka’s 26th prime minister amid the country’s worst economic crisis. He is widely accepted in the political arena as a person who can manage the economy through visionary policy.
His appointment fills a leadership vacuum as the Sri Lankan government has been out since Monday when Gotabhaya’s elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned after violent protests against attacks on anti-government protesters by his supporters.
Vikramasinghe, who is considered a Sri Lankan politician who can direct international cooperation, has held many important positions in his four-and-a-half-decade political career. He developed a personal relationship with Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbor India and visited the country on four occasions during his previous tenure as Prime Minister – October 2016, April 2017, November 2017 and October 2018.
During the same period, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid two visits to Sri Lanka and he responded to Vikramasinghe’s personal request to help the island nation set up a 1990 ambulance system – a free healthcare service that was extremely helpful during Kovid 19.
Despite opposition from then-President Maithripala Sirisena, Vikramasinghe backed the deal with India at the eastern terminal of the Colombo port, which was rejected by the Rajapaksa in 2020.
His party, the UNP, the country’s oldest party, also failed to win a seat in the 2020 parliamentary elections. He lost his seat for the first time since 1977 but later found his way to parliament through the only national list allotted to the UNP on the basis of a growing national vote.
His deputy, Sajith Premadasa, led the separatist party Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and became the main opposition.
Vikramasinghe, the nephew of Sri Lanka’s first executive president Junias Jayawardene, became the first prime minister from 1993-1994 after the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
He was elected Prime Minister from 2001-2004 when the United National Front government won the general election in 2001. But she lost power in 2004 after Chandrika Kumaratunga called early elections.
During his tenure as prime minister, he initiated peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), even proposing a power-sharing agreement. Both Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa accused him of being too humble towards the LTTE and giving them too many concessions.
In the 2015 elections in Bikram Singh, Mahinda handed over a shock defeat to Rajapaksa and led a minority government.
When he took over as prime minister for the third time in 2015, he promised to hand over power to the country’s Tamil minority in a move for national reconciliation six years after a military strike crushed the LTTE.
In 2018, then-President Sirisena fired Prime Minister Bikram Singh and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister. Sirisena’s move has sparked a constitutional crisis in the country. However, a Supreme Court ruling forced President Sirisena to end Rajapaksa’s short rule and reinstate Bikram Singh.
Born in 1949 after Sri Lanka gained independence from the British, Bikram Singh was elected to Parliament in 1977 at the age of 28. He has been a member of the United National Party (UNP) Youth League since his university days.
As the youngest minister in Sri Lanka at the time, he held the post of Deputy Foreign Minister under President Jayawardene.
He was later appointed as the Minister for Youth Affairs and Employment. He has also served in the Ministry of Education. Then in 1989, as a seasoned legislator, he was made Leader of Parliament under President Premadasa. He has also served as Minister of Industry, Science and Technology.