Ranil Wickremesinghe suffered his first parliamentary election defeat in 2020. He lost miserably from his seat Colombo and the United National Party (UNP), which he heads, was completely routed at the hands of the Rajapaksa brothers-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).
The media and his own party colleagues wrote his political obituary the same day. Other UNP leaders had also openly demanded his retirement and handing over of the baton to some other younger leader. But the wily Wickremesinghe did not budge, refused to step down and returned to parliament as a nominated MP a year later. He is currently the lone MP from the UNP in the House.
In a quirk of fate, Wickremesinghe took charge as the Prime Minister on Thursday. Sri Lanka, which is facing the worst ever economic and political crisis in its modern history, is now looking at him hoping the three-time PM will save it from imminent doom. The man who had almost walked into the twilight of politics is being forced to return to put the derailed island nation back on track.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is taking charge at the most difficult moment in his country’s history. Sri Lanka is rapidly descending into chaos and the economy has hit rock-bottom. He has no magic wand in his hand and the road to recovery would be excruciatingly painful for the battered nation. Veteran Wickremesinghe is aware of it and age is also not on his side. Left with no other credible face to helm the nation, discredited and beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has chosen him.
The 73-year-old hails from one of Sri Lanka’s most powerful political families. His father Esmond Wickremesinghe was a renowned advocate and media baron. His uncle, JR Jayewardene, was Sri Lanka’s most powerful president till date.
A UK-educated barrister, Wickremesinghe won the parliament elections for the first time in 1977. He was just 28 then. After that, he won every parliament election till 2020. He was a cabinet minister in the Jayewardene and Premadasa governments.