Ranil Wickremesinghe: who is Sri Lanka’s new president and former prime minister?

Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned following widespread unrest over Sri Lanka’s economic crisis

Sri Lanka has elected a new president of the country, after its former leader fled the country and resigned.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as leader of the south Asian country, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was ousted during mass unrest.

However, the new appointment is deeply unpopular with the people of Sri Lanka, after he was elected by fellow MPs and is noted to have close ties to the previous administration.

Here’s everything you need to know about the situation.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has become the new President of Sri Lanka after former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa was ousted. (Credit: Getty Images)

Who is Ranil Wickremesinghe?

Ranil Wickremesinghe is a Sri Lankan politician who formerly served as Prime Minister of the country.

He held this role in five seperate stints - from 1993 to 1994, 2001 to 2004, 2015 to 2018, 2018 to 2019, and in 2022.

Mr Wickremesinghe is a member of the United National Party (UNP) and has been a member of the party since the mid 1970s.

He has run for president twice but failed to be elected.

He took on the role of president after former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned in July 2022, following civil unrest in the country.

Why did Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign as president?

Mr Rajapaksa was under immense pressure to resign as leader of Sri Lanka after angry protesters called for him to step down over the country’s worsening economic crisis.

Inflation in the country is currently running at 50%, with food and the cost of living rising sharply.

The country is also on its knees, with a lack of fuel to run vital transport services and emergency vehicles, while officials also said that there was not enough foreign currency to import more.

With the sale of fuel heavily restricted in the country, schools have been closed and employees have been asked to work from home where possible.

The dire situation led to angry protesters taking to the streets, calling for Mr Rajapaksa to resign over the matter.

Eventually, protesters inflitrated the presidential residence and burnt it to the ground, with Mr Rajapaksa fleeing to the Maldives and declaring a state of emergency.

The prime minister’s resident was also stormed by protesters.

Prior to his resignation, Mr Rajapaksa announced that Mr Wickremesinghe would replace him as acting president, before he was confirmed as leader on 21 July by his fellow MPs.

Why is Ranil Wickremesinghe’s election controversial?

One of the reasons Mr Wickremesinghe’s confirmation as president of Sri Lanka is controversial with residents in the country is that he was not voted on by the electorate, with claims that MPs were ignoring civil unrest in the country.

The new president was chosen by a total of 216 MPs - 134 voted in favour again 82 votes against.

Speaking to the BBC, Jeana De Zoysa, an activist against Mr Rajapaksa, said: “I am absolutely disgusted at the result… I cannot believe that 134 people - MPs that are supposed to represent the people- have completely disregarded the wants of the people.”

Protesters say that Mr Wickemesinghe, despite being from the opposition party to Mr Rajapaksa, is a member of the political elite in Sri Lanka, with many unsure if real change to the politcial running of the country will take place.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramnua (SLPP) party - the ruling party which Mr Rajapaksa led - say that Mr Wickemesinghe was chosen to be acting president at the time of Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation due to his “experience” with economic matters.

Sagara Kariyawasam, general secretary of the party, said: “We feel that Ranil Wickremesinghe is the only person with the experience, the know-how and the capacity to provide solutions to the economic crisis.”