President Gotabaya Rajapaksa may have fled the country, but Sri Lanka is fast descending into chaos as protesters turn their guns on acting president and former prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The announcement by the Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena that Wickremesinghe has been appointed acting president on the instructions of the former strong man has enraged the masses, who already suspected the two of being hand in glove. Protesters are now converging on the PM's office to demand he immediately step down. An Emergency has been declared in the island state. But the angry people are in no mood to heed any diktat from the authorities.
“Because of his absence from the country, President Rajapaksa told me that he has appointed the prime minister to act as the president in line with the constitution,” Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said in a statement.
For Ranil Wickremesinghe, this is the kiss of death. People were already angry with the Prime Minister, his personal residence had been set on fire by mobs on Saturday. Protesters have taken over the Prime Minister’s office a little while back.
They suspect that Wickremasinghe is hand and glove with the Rajapaksas and a turncoat. After all, he was chosen by Gotabaya as the Prime Minister even as the entire cabinet was forced to resign. People suspect a deal between the two men and will not accept Wickremesinghe, especially now when the Speaker has announced that Gotabaya has appointed him. The appointment by the way, is temporary till July 20, when a new president will be elected by Parliament. People fear that he is planning a political coup and remain in office. He was expected to put his hat on the ring for the Presidential elections on Friday and could have succeeded because the Rajapaksa family party the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna still has a majority in Parliament. However considering the rage in the streets, he may decide not to contest.
Ranil Wickremasinghe has impeccable political pedigree and comes from an influential political family. His uncle Junius Richard Jayewardene had a long inning as President. Wickremesinghe had been the country’s prime minister six times, including this latest stint.
Ranil a sophisticated man of the world is appreciated much more outside the country. Though his United National Party (UNP) was wiped out in the 2020 parliamentary elections and he was the only representative in the House, his appointment as PM was welcomed by the rest of the world. He is a great friend of India, appreciated in western capital including the US, and in his own South Asian neighborhood. The world believes that Sri Lanka’s crisis can be handled by an experienced political leader like Ranil.
But as Ahilan Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s well-known political analyst put in, "Ranil Wickremesinghe has lost all credibility with the people. If there is pressure from foreign countries to make him President, the people of Sri Lanka will not accept it."