COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president on Thursday (July 21), with officials saying he would set up an all-party unity Cabinet to confront the country’s economic crisis.
Mr Wickremesinghe, 73, who was elected by legislators on Wednesday, took his oath of office before chief justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at the tightly-guarded Parliament complex, a statement from his office said.
Sri Lanka’s police chief and top military brass stood behind the new president as the oath was administered in the presence of parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana.
The brief ceremony was due to be broadcast live on local television but was inexplicably cut off just before the swearing-in got under way.
Officials said an investigation into the unexpected breakdown had been launched.
Mr Wickremesinghe will lead the country for the balance of Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term after the deposed president fled to Singapore and resigned last week.
Political sources said Mr Wickremesinghe will invite all political parties to join a Cabinet of 30 ministers to steer the country out of its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Former public administration minister Dinesh Gunawardena, a schoolmate of Mr Wickremesinghe, is tipped to become prime minister.
Mr Gunawardena and Mr Wickremesinghe have known each other since the age of three and studied together at the prestigious Royal College of Colombo.
Mr Gunawardena is a trade union leader and represents a small nationalist party allied with the ousted Mr Rajapaksa’s SLPP party.
“There will be a few MPs from the main opposition joining the Cabinet,” a source close to Mr Wickremesinghe said, adding that he was keen to ensure a rainbow coalition.
Worshipping at a Buddhist temple on Wednesday evening after his election by the 225-member Parliament, Mr Wickremesinghe vowed tough action against troublemakers.
“If you try to topple the government, occupy the president’s office and the prime minister’s office, that is not democracy, it is against the law,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.
“We will deal with them firmly according to the law. We will not allow a minority of protesters to suppress the aspirations of the silent majority clamouring for a change in the political system.”
Protesters who stormed Mr Rajapaksa’s palace and toppled him earlier this month have accused Mr Wickremesinghe of being a proxy of the once-powerful family.
“I am not a friend of the Rajapaksas,” he told reporters at the Gangaramaya temple. “I am a friend of the people.”
Sri Lanka is suffering lengthy power blackouts and the country’s 22 million have been enduring shortages of fuel, food and medicines for months.
Public anger over the hardships boiled over when tens of thousands of protesters stormed the home of then-president Mr Rajapaksa, forcing him to step down and clearing the way for Mr Wickremesinghe’s election.