India on Sunday welcomed the reappointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lanka’s prime minister almost two months after he was sacked by president Maithripala Sirisena ending a 51-day crisis that had paralysed the island nation.
New Delhi however was keeping a wary eye on the uneasy truce between the president and the prime minister, a person familiar with the development said, that comes after weeks of bitter sniping between the two.
The 69-year-old Wickremesinghe was sworn in by Sirisena, who had sacked him on October 26 and appointed former president, the China leaning Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. The move had triggered a power struggle that brought the country’s government to a standstill.
Wickremesinghe had refused to step aside since being sacked on 26 October.
“As a close neighbour and true friend, India welcomes the resolution of the political situation in Sri Lanka,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement. “This is a reflection of the maturity demonstrated by all political forces, and also of the resilience of Sri Lankan democracy and its institutions. India remains committed to taking forward its people oriented development projects in Sri Lanka. We are confident that India-Sri Lanka relations will continue to move on an upward trajectory,’ Kumar added.
For India, the open war between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe meant the end of an alliance it had stitched up between Sri Lanka’s opposition in 2015 which had defeated the China leaning Rajapaksa in national polls. India was also unhappy with the slow pace of rehabilitation of the Tamils, under Rajapaksa’s watch, displaced by the civil war after the end of the conflict in May 2009.
After appointing Rajapaksa in his place, Sirisena had vowed to never reappoint Wickremesinghe — who he publicly slammed in speeches in subsequent weeks. The acrimony between the two was on display on Sunday when Sirisena barred reporters from attending the swearing-in ceremony — leaving it to Wickremesinghe’s legislators to announce the appointment, news reports from Colombo said.
“We thank the citizens of the country who fought the illegal seizure of power and ensured that democracy was restored,” Wikremesinghe’s United National Party said in a Twitter post.
“Today marks a victory not for myself or for the UNP. It is a victory for Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and the sovereignty of our citizens. I thank everyone who stood firm in defending the constitution and ensuring the triumph of democracy,” Wickremesinghe’s own post said.
One of the reasons being attributed to Sirisena’s volte face in reappointing Wikremesinghe is the inability of Rajapakse to take the reins of government. He failed many attempts to muster a majority in parliament. The former president was also defeated many times on the floor of the legislature before he stepped down on Saturday.
In a Twitter post, Rajapaksa’s son Namal said: “Politics aside I would like to congratulate @RW_UNP being appointed as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. I hope at least now he will work towards ensuring the sovereignty of this country and more so address issues of our people more than Western interests.”
Sirisena too suffered a setback when Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruled that he acted outside the constitution when he sacked parliament in early November, days after appointing Rajapaksa. The court also confirmed on Friday that Rajapaksa and his cabinet could not exercise the powers of the office they held.
A spokesman for Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying on Sunday that the prime minister was expected to form a cabinet in the coming days, with priority focus of the government being on the 2019 budget.
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