Coming from a wealthy family, nephew of a former head of state and already six-time prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe became the 73-year-old president of Sri Lanka on Wednesday, the ambition of a lifetime.
Experienced in corridor maneuvers, this silver-haired priest has already been the Acting President since the flight and resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, driven by protesters into exile in a bankrupt country.
Sri Lanka’s deputies elected president on Wednesday by an overwhelming majority of 134 votes to 82 for his main challenger Dulas Alahabruma and only three for leftist candidate Anura Dissanayake. Wickremesinghe will rule until the end of Rajapaksa’s term in November 2024.
But if he gets the support of the Rajapaksa clan party, the most important in Parliament, the street does not want him, even if he asserted immediately after his election that “our divisions are over”.
Sri Lankan politics has always been dominated by a few great dynasties, and Rikkemsingh is no exception: President Junius Jaywardene’s nephew (1978-1989), it was his powerful uncle who in 1977 appointed him deputy foreign minister.
His uncle is nicknamed “The Old Fox,” but his nephew is known to be more adept at exploring the secrets of power.
Head of government at various times (1993-1994, 2001-2004, 2015-2019), beaten twice for the top position in 1999 and 2005, he was recalled again as prime minister in mid-May, when Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotayapa’s brother, is forced to Resignation.
But Wrickemesinghe did not escape popular anger either: When protesters stormed the president’s home on July 9, his house was set on fire, and 2,500 books in his library, his “greatest treasure”, turned out to be. , to ashes.
– Banking scandal –
Born into a family with a fortune in publishing and farms, Wickremesinghe began working as a reporter for one of the group’s newspapers.
With the nationalization of the family business in 1973, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first woman in contemporary history to become prime minister of a country, changed the fate of the young man.
“If the Lake House had not been taken over, I would have become a journalist. In fact, Ms. Bandaranaike got me into politics,” he previously told AFP.
In 1993, President Ranasinghe Premadasa died in a suicide attack. He is succeeded by Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wigitunga, who has appointed Wickremesinghe as head of government.
But another suicide attack in 1999 undoubtedly benefited her main rival, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was injured just three days before the presidential election.
A bandage in her right eye lost in the attack, the whole nation moved during a television appearance. Wickremesinghe lost the election he won.
Married to Maithree, a childless English teacher, he has long enjoyed a relatively clean image in a corrupt political world.
But that was muddled during his tenure as prime minister from 2015-2019, and was marred by an insider trading scandal related to central bank bonds.
A school friend, who appointed him to head the institution, was one of the main defendants in this case.
If elected president, his status as a pro-Western reformer and champion of free trade could facilitate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors over a possible bailout.
But he has already warned that there will be no quick fix to the unprecedented economic and financial stagnation in his country, with food, fuel and medicine in short supply.
“We are broke. The worst is yet to come,” the septuagenarian told parliament earlier this month.