Remarkable as the appointment of Ranil Wickremasinghe is for the fifth time as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the veteran politician is in an unenviable position. He has taken up the challenge of a job that no one wants at the moment, not even the Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa who may have seemed the logical choice to head a national government but whose preconditions the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, would not meet.
So convoluted are the economic and political problems facing Sri Lanka that Ranil, whose United National Party has a solitary seat in parliament, may be setting some kind of a record. The nature of the appointment is such that what he does is going to be far more significant towards handling a Sri Lanka ravaged by a public uprising against the Rajapaksas, besides shortages of everything for everyday life of the people.
Negotiating terms with the IMF regarding a bailout is an immediate task to take on which Ranil might be well qualified for as he is perceived a pro-West leader, which is in sharp contrast to the China predilections of Mahinda that had left the former Prime Minister and Sri Lanka with little but white elephants in the form of infra projects for his hometown Hambantota and a mountain of debt.
Ranil, one of whose previous terms in office was cut short when he was dismissed by President Maithripala Sirisena in 2018 and then reinstated, was Prime Minister when bombs exploded on Easter Friday in 2019 and shattered the peace. For Sri Lanka to recover the old flows of the tourism, tea export and diaspora remittance dollars, there would have to be a total reconstruction of confidence in the country. Can that be achieved when a Rajapaksa is head of state is the question.
The road ahead when the Sri Lankan rupee has slid to about five to one Indian rupee and the queues are not getting any shorter for food and fuel, the new government may have continued moral support from India but not much more by way of credits beyond the $3.5 billion given this year. Of course, there will be abundant goodwill for Ranil and what he will be aiming to do before Sri Lanka could be in any kind of position to call for fresh polls. It would be a good start for Ranil if the violence abates....