Ranil Wickremesinghe distances himself from his predecessors as he becomes President of Sri Lanka

Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new president, a day after winning the vote in parliament, and urged the island nation to come together to find a way out of its worst economic crisis in decades. 

The six-time prime minister succeeded Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled Sri Lanka and resigned from his post last week following mass protests over his handling of the economy.

Hours after winning the parliamentary vote, Mr Wickremesinghe appeared to distance himself from the powerful Rajapaksa family that has dominated politics in Sri Lanka for decades.

“I am not a friend of the Rajapaksas. I am a friend of the people,” he told reporters after praying at a Buddhist temple in the commercial capital, Colombo.

The country of 22 million people has been crippled by a severe financial crisis, with a lack of foreign currency leading to shortages of essentials including fuel, food, and medicines.

Mr Wickremesinghe, who earlier served as prime minister and finance minister under Mr Rajapaksa, has been involved in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package worth up to $US3 billion ($4.4 billion).

Sri Lanka is also looking for assistance from neighbouring India, China, and other international partners.

Ongoing economic crisis

Sri Lanka recently received fresh diesel supplies and the main state-run distributor, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, announced it would restart sales under a new rationing system.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a purple shirt waves with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa in red shirt and scarf, waving from a crowd
Gotabaya Rajapaksa (right) and his brother, former president and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, have become political pariahs in the country they once ruled.(Reuters: Dinuka Liyanawatte)

The protest movement that pushed out Mr Rajapaksa — the first sitting Sri Lankan president to quit office — remained largely muted, despite Mr Wickremesinghe’s unpopularity among some sections of the population.

The swearing-in ceremony for the new president was conducted in parliament and was presided over by the country’s chief justice.

Meanwhile, only a handful of people were present outside the presidential secretariat, the colonial-era building which was stormed by a sea of protesters earlier this month along with the president and prime minister’s official residences.

But some have vowed to fight on against President Wickremesinghe.

“We won’t give up because what the country needs is a total system change,” said one protester at the secretariat. “We want to get rid of these corrupted politicians, so that’s what we are doing.”

ABC/Reuters

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Ranil Wickremesinghe elected as new Sri Lankan President.