Wickremesinghe returns as Sri Lanka PM as crisis nears end

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Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addresses his supporters after assuming duties in Colombo on Sunday. Reuters

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s prime minister yesterday, making a remarkable comeback weeks after being ousted by President Maithripala Sirisena under controversial circumstances.

Mr Wickremesinghe’s reinstatement, which is expected to end a political crisis that began in late October when he was surprisingly sacked, is an embarrassment for the president.

Mr Sirisena had replaced Wickremesinghe with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa following differences over policy matters and other issues. However, Mr Rajapaksa failed to win a parliamentary majority and resigned on Saturday as a government shutdown loomed.

Mr Sirisena had repeatedly said he would not reappoint Mr Wickremesinghe as prime minister. But he had to change his stance to gain parliamentary approval for a temporary budget that is required by Jan. 1.

“It is a victory for Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and the sovereignty of our citizens,” Mr Wickremesinghe said in a tweet. “I thank everyone who stood firm in defending the constitution and ensuring the triumph of democracy.”

He later told his supporters at his official residence that he would ensure a “better economic situation, better standard of living” for Sri Lankans after first working to “normalise the country”.

The swearing-in ceremony was closed to the media and only a few lawmakers from Mr Wickremesinghe’s coalition were present, an official in the president’s office told Reuters.

Mr Wickremesinghe, who has never completed a full term as prime minister, was appointed for the post for the fifth time.

The South Asian island country’s parliament had voted to cut the budget for Mr Rajapaksa and his ministers after Mr Sirisena refused to accept no-confidence votes against Mr Rajapaksa, saying that due process was not followed.

Sri Lanka’s parliamentarians have already passed a confidence vote in Mr Wickremesinghe as they sought his return as prime minister to defuse a constitutional crisis.

On Friday, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court rejected Mr Rajapaksa’s bid for an injunction against a lower court’s order that barred him and his Cabinet from performing their roles.

Many foreign countries refused to recognise Mr Rajapaksa’s government. Credit rating agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor’s downgraded Sri Lanka, citing refinancing risks and an uncertain policy outlook.

Mr Sirisena came to power in 2015 on a pledge to uphold democracy and stamp out corruption. However, his popularity has been hit by a crisis many say he triggered because of personal differences with Mr Wickremesinghe.

Much of the conflict between the two men centered on a dispute over how much to accommodate Indian interests in the country versus Chinese, government officials and foreign diplomats told Reuters last month.

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