ECONOMYNEXT – Amid hearty greetings from government benches and a more lukewarm welcome from the opposition, Sri Lanka’s four-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as a member of parliament on Wednesday (June 23) for a record ninth consecutive time.
Wickremesinghe is now the only active Sri Lankan politician to have entered every parliament since 1977.
The United National Party (UNP), which Wickremesinghe has been leading since 1994, suffered a major setback at the 2020 parliamentary polls when the party faced its worst election defeat in history. Helped by a mass exodus of members loyal to then UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa, Sri Lanka’s so called grand old party was reduced to a single national list seat in parliament.
The UNP polled only 249,435 votes, a mere 2.15% of all votes cast at the elections. In contrast, at the 2015 parliamentary elections, Wickremesinghe alone polled over 500,000 preferential votes in the Colombo district.
Ending 10 months of debate, denials and speculation, the UNP finally nominated Wickremesinghe for the national list seat this month, and the Election Commission on June 18 gazetted the former premier as an MP.
Wickremesinghe had previously declined a unanimous request from the UNP’s Working Committee to represent the party in parliament, according to party sources. He had cited a UNP policy of not letting defeated candidates into parliament through the backdoor and called for a younger member to represent the party in his place.
Asked about the apparent change of heart, he told the privately owned Derana TV last week that the Buddhist clergy, UNP members and supporters had urged him to take up the seat.
Ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs were seen enthusiastically tapping their desks and congratulating Wickremesinghe as he took oaths June 23 morning, to which Wickremesinghe replied “jaya wewa” (loosely translated, “may you/we be victorious”. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena wished, too, him “all the best”.
His former colleagues in the now main opposition the Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) seemed unmoved.
Government members who spoke at the occasion claimed that a number of SJB MPs have declared their intention to rally behind Wickremesinghe upon his entry to parliament, a claim which both the SJB and the UNP have denied as baseless.
Meanwhile, SJB lawmakers in the House started protesting the recent fuel price hike and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, against whom they have submitted a no confidence motion. The MPs were seen displaying placards condemning the price hike and seemingly refusing to respond to oral questions.
SLPP MP Shantha Bandara took the opportunity to claim that the SJB was, in fact, protesting Wickremesinghe by disrupting the day’s session. (Colombo/June23/2021)