Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Sri Lanka's New Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena Is A Leftist Leader, Veteran Politician

New Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has earlier served as foreign minister, education minister, and home minister.

Sri Lankas newly appointed Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena PTI

Dinesh Gunawardena was on Friday appointed as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

Wickremesinghe was himself elected as the President of Sri Lanka on Wednesday, days after Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned from the position and fled the country. Wickremesinghe was earlier serving as the prime minister and had said he would resign as PM in favour of an all-party government.

Gunawardena is a hard-core leftist who is believed to be close to the Rajapaksa family that has dominated Sri Lankan politics for a long time but has been at the centre of people's ire in recent months as people blame the Rajapaksas for the country's financial crisis, which is the worst in the country's history.

Dinesh Gunawardena's political career

Dinesh Gunawardena, 73, is a hard-core leftist leader whose family has a connection with India. 

Gunawardena is the leader of the Trotskyist majority nationalist Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), a constituent party of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party.

A schoolmate of Wickremesinghe, Gunawardena, has held various Cabinet posts in the past.

Gunawardena earlier served as the foreign minister and education minister. He was appointed as Home Minister in April by the then President Gotabaya. 

Gunawardena succeeded his father Philip Gunawardena in 1979 to lead the party. 

Gunawardena entered Parliament for the first time in 1983 from the populous Colombo suburb of Maharagama and became a leading opposition figure until 1994.

Gunawardena became a Cabinet minister for the first time in 2000. He continued in senior cabinet positions until 2015. He returned to the Cabinet in 2020.  

Dinesh Gunawardena belongs to political family

Gunawardena belongs to a prominent political family in Sri Lanka and is a close ally of the Rajapaksa family, which ruled the country for nearly two decades.

Gunawardena's father was a prominent figure in the leftist socialist movement in the British era prior to Sri Lanka's independence in 1948. 

Gunawardena's elder brother Indika, who passed away in 2015, was born in Bombay in 1943 when his parents were in hiding in India as they had revolted against British rule. Indika was a Cabinet minister from 1994 to 2001.

Gunawardena received his primary and secondary education from Royal College, Colombo and later studied at the Netherlands School of Business, graduating with a diploma in business administration and management. He later joined the University of Oregon, graduating with a BBA in international business.

Dinesh Gunawardena's challenges

Sri Lanka is going through its worst financial crisis ever. There is an acute shortage of foreign exchange, which means that the countru is struggling to import even essential goods. This has led to a shortage of essentials ranging from cooking gas, edibles, vehicular fuel, to medicines, also sending their prices soaring. 

People have blamed the Rajapaksa family at the helm of the country responsible for the crisis. While Rajapaksas are now out, the financial crisis continues.

The new government led by Wickremesinghe faces the task of leading the country out of its economic collapse and restoring order after months of mass protests that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign. 

Gunawardena's appointment came hours after security forces made several arrests and cleared a protest camp near the presidential palace in the capital. 

As a prime minister, Gunawardena has to walk a tightrope. His close connection with the Rajapaksas can draw the ire of protesters who blame the powerful family for the country's worst economic crisis. 

(With PTI inputs)