President Ranil Wickremesinghe's name may soon go down in history
as the only South Asian leader who has interacted with a record
number of world leaders for bilateral discussions within a short period
since taking office. The reasons given are that it is mainly because Sri
Lanka is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis
with no silver lining on the horizon. The crises stems from the financial
meltdown that came to pass during the Rajapaksa regime, owing to
poor fiscal management and knee-jerk tax cuts by Gotabaya Rajapaksa
to reward his cronies who made it possible for him to ascend the
presidency. The consequences for the country and its citizens were
disastrous when the government coffers ran out of revenue needed for
recurrent expenditure. The government's financial pundits had no
option but to declare insolvency.
People demonstrated against the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government for
inaction and the immense economic hardships they had to endure
within a short period of his assuming duties as president. Food
scarcities and fuel shortages created winding queues for miles while
sending the cost of living went through the roof. The people took to the
streets, demanding immediate relief.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had a reputation as a strict military
disciplinarian, showed the country that he was weak beyond
expectation and was also poor at crisis management. The
circumstances put him under undue pressure to invite the opposition to
shoulder government responsibility. The solitary UNP Parliamentarian
Ranil Wickremesinghe took advantage of the situation while others
backed out. Eventually, he became Prime Minister and President since
Gotabaya failed to hang on to the presidency due to the popular
uprising by the people.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has some experience in crisis management as an
understudy of the late President J.R. Jayewardene and his active
engagement with President Ranasinghe Premadasa during the
impeachment in September 1991, where a section of Parliament sought
President Premadasa’s ouster.
Following Gotabaya’s ouster, India did not want to provide a safe haven
for him on their soil but exerted pressure on the Maldives to
accommodate him which they accepted. The departure of Gotabaya
provided ample space for Ranil Wickremesinghe to get his agenda
The ongoing political crisis was handled effectively by Ranil
Wickremesinghe. He showed his mettle to the remaining Rajapaksa
clan, who sought a haven under Wickremesinghe and elevated him to
the presidency, using their clout on the badly beaten-up
parliamentarians whose houses were set ablaze and razed to the
ground by the protesting people.
No government came forward to help the crisis-ridden country other
than its immediate neighbour. India ostensibly assumed a crucial role,
dictating terms to safeguard strategic Indian interests in the Indian
Ocean region, where Sri Lanka has failed even to keep her act together.

The Sri Lankan crisis gave a lot of leverage to India to interfere in some
form or another in decisions taken by Sri Lanka for its benefit, even
through legitimate means.
After taking over, President Wickremesinghe had no easy task. He was
walking a tightrope to salvage the country out of a muddle and repair
the damage internationally. Once during an interview with a local TV
station he likened this task to carrying a baby across a bridge wearing
shoes with iron cladding.(somewhat similar to Grusha of the Caucasian
Chalk Circle of Bertolt Brecht)
Wickremesinghe has been actively working to revamp Sri Lanka's
international image and relations with the outside world. He made it a
point to interact with various world leaders, using every opportunity
that came his way. He met with the leaders of China, India, the United
States, and the United Kingdom to discuss potential solutions to the
current crisis. He has also taken steps to address the deepening
economic crisis in the country, including reducing government spending
and increasing taxes on the wealthy and the poor alike. Several of his
policies have virtually put the middle-class reeling under the pressure
of taxes imposed in adherence to the dictates of the International
Monetary Fund.
Wickremesinghe has also proposed several reforms to the country's
governance structure, such as introducing greater transparency and
accountability, which will take time for the country to reap its benefits.
The president’s international interactions started with the funeral of
the late Queen Elizabeth II, followed by the funeral of the late Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.
Then, the President paid a well-calculated visit to Cuba akin to that of
the late President J.R. Jayewardene and the United Nations and again

to France, Germany, and India. The President has just fulfilled his
mission in Beijing, addressing the Belt and Road initiative of President
Xi Jinping of China. He actively participated in the BRI despite being
warned by India of the inherent dangers associated with it. India’s
reaction may not be direct, but it may come in different modes since
the India-China rivalry has a burgeoning effect.

Wickremesinghe met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and
Pakistani Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar for bilateral discussions
while in Beijing.
President Widodo and President Ranil Wickremesinghe engaged in
extensive discussions to further strengthen political, cultural, and
economic ties between the two countries.
Furthermore, they deliberated on the implications of the economic
crisis and the palm oil ban on trade activities connecting the two
nations. President Ranil Wickremesinghe highlighted Sri Lanka’s
ongoing efforts to establish free trade agreements with various Asian
countries and to formalise the existing agreement with India.
In response, the Indonesian president expressed his timeline for
working towards a free trade agreement between Indonesia and Sri
Lanka. President Ranil Wickremesinghe also agreed to work towards a
free trade agreement between both countries. He promised to take all
necessary steps to guarantee the fulfilment of the agreement. He also
agreed to visit Indonesia soon to discuss the achievements made under
the agreement. Wickremesinghe underscored the need to enhance the
political, economic, and cultural ties between Sri Lanka and Indonesia
by reinforcing the Indian Ocean identity and existing bilateral
agreements. He also promised to further strengthen economic

cooperation between the two countries. He thanked the Indonesian
government for its support and expressed hope for a stronger bilateral
relationship in the future.
Wickremesinghe also engaged in an extensive discourse with Prime
Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar about the economic crises that have
affected both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with a particular emphasis on
strategies for recovery.
Moreover, the leaders deliberated on the critical developments
unfolding in the Gaza Strip.
In this regard, they reached a consensus to issue a joint statement,
reflecting their stance on the situation.
The President, while in Beijing, vetoed a decision by the Constitutional
Council to remove the incumbent Inspector General of Police, C.D.
Wickramaratna. The President’s alleged decision may have been based
on the fact that the Council had not followed proper procedure in
removing the Inspector General or exceeded its constitutional
responsibility. The powers to remove the Inspector General fell under
the purview of the President, who felt that the decision of the
Constitutional Council had been rushed without proper consideration.
Making an appointment to such a senior position is the prerogative,
and the responsibility of the executive and removal, too, falls within his
purview. However, the Constitutional Council could make strong
recommendations and suggestions to the President. Nevertheless, the
President could remain without acting on the recommendations of the
Constitutional Council while making use of an acting position to get the
statutory duties vested with such a position. This has happened in the
past when the person earmarked by the President for a coveted
position is turned down by the Constitutional Council.

The President's aim may be to appoint Deshabandu Tennakoon as the
Inspector General of Police at the behest of Law and Order Minister
Tiran Alles and take time until Deshabandu clears his name, which has
been blemished by several court cases against him. However, it is a
foregone conclusion that the Constitutional Council may not vote in
favour of Deshabandu being appointed as the IGP proper. Hence, the
President will be compelled to keep him in limbo. This means the
President may not have an option but to keep him in the acting position
until his retirement or a change of government that would remove
Deshabandu from the acting position and revert him to his substantive
The President’s decision to overrule the Constitutional Council may
create a legal hiatus, but senior lawyers say that he wouldn’t move
without studying the provisions in the statute book since there is a
reasonable doubt as to whether the Constitutional Council could
assume the role of the appointing authority.
Be that as it may, the government is making moves in the political
domain to change the existing electoral arrangement and introduce a
hybrid system. The top-rung members of the government are now
working strategically to solicit the support of the opposition benches in
The opposition benches have told the government in no uncertain
terms that they won’t participate in any discussion that is envisaged to
change the existing electoral arrangement. The Minister of Justice, who
is averse to the present PR system and the preferential vote, has
proposed a new hybrid system of elections in which 30 percent of the
members will be elected under the PR system while the other seventy
will be chosen according to the first past the post (Westminster)

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has told the Justice Minister to discuss
with all the parties represented in Parliament and arrive at a decision.
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is not in favour of any changes
amidst the government's waning popularity. They think the new system
is a ruse to hold on to power come what may. When the Prime Minister
said that it was done in good faith, the Opposition asked whether they
put off the local government election in good faith as well. In any case,
it looks like it won't be able to proceed any further since the SJB is not
ready to support the government.
Besides, the Online Safety Bill has come under heavy fire from almost
every quarter. The latest application challenging the Online Safety Bill
has come from Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith of Colombo. When
the matter came before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, an
additional Solicitor General appearing on behalf of the Attorney
General told the Supreme Court that certain provisions of the Bill would
change at the committee stage in Parliament. Many activists advocating
media freedom and free access to information have filed an action in
the Supreme Court challenging the provisions of the Bill and arguing
that it should be approved by the people at a countrywide referendum.