Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe marked his first year in office on 21 July. He became interim president at a historic moment for the country, after his predecessor was ousted from office following widespread protests.

Ranil Wickremesinghe becoming President was perhaps the last thing most protesters wanted after a month-long mission to oust the country’s President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who received an overwhelming mandate to office just two and half years ago. Protesters argued that Wickremesinghe had no moral or ethical right to become President as he was not even an elected member of parliament. However, Wickremesinghe could claim his constitutional right as he was the country’s Prime Minister when Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to “abdicate” the presidential throne.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ascent to the presidency is full of interesting twists. In the 2019 presidential election, the country rejected his government by electing his opponent. In the general election the following year, the seasoned politician was out of Parliament for the first time in decades. His party, the oldest and most well-known in the country, could only secure a national seat based on the proportion of votes it received. Wickremesinghe nevertheless entered Parliament through the national seat later.

When Ranil Wickremesinghe took over as Sri Lanka’s President, the country was in dire crisis. Abundant queues for fuel and gas, power scarcity, and high inflation were the new norm. Wickremesinghe had a lot of work to do to get the country back on track.

What started as a peaceful protest on 9 March with a march to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence in Mirihana, escalated to a large-scale protest and the gathering of tens of thousands of people surrounding the President’s official residence on 9 July. As the protests reached full swing, the presidential sibling, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had to step down from the prime ministerial position. 

Then it was Wickremesinghe’s carpe diem moment when the leading lawmakers in the 225-member legislature backed away from succeeding Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. As a result, the Prime Ministerial position was vacant for a few days. Ranil Wickremesinghe was finally appointed prime minister. 

The protests forced former President Rajapaksa to flee the country. He first flew to the Maldives and then to Singapore. This paved the way for Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to take over as acting president. The protests also resulted in the burning of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s personal residence.

Gotabaya submitted his resignation, paving the way for Wickremesinghe to take over as interim president. Transitioning from the acting President to the interim President, Wickremesinghe faced yet another hurdle to overcome: to be elected legitimately to the position of Executive President of Sri Lanka through a parliamentary vote. The vote was a walk in the park for Wickremesinghe, who had the support of the Rajapaksa faction, which made up the majority of Parliament.

In the final count, Interim President Ranil Wickremesinghe received 134 votes to become the 8th and current Executive President of Sri Lanka. Members of the opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) also voted for him in addition to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP). Wickremesinghe’s main opponent, Dullas Alahapperuma, a former minister in the Rajapaksa government, garnered 82 votes. The third candidate in the election was Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Dissanayake received three votes.

The presidential vote was held on 20 July 2022, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned as president on 13 July and Wickremesinghe took over as Interim President.

Though now the executive president, Wickremesinghe has worked with his traditional opponent’s faction for the first time. He has governed the country with almost the same Cabinet of ministers that last served former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, with only a few changes, for the past one year.

Sri Lankan President has also been criticised for his handling of the political crisis. He has been accused of being too close to the Rajapaksas and not doing enough to address protesters’ concerns.

After witnessing how a lenient approach towards protests and protestors resulted in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s downfall, President Ranil Wickremesinghe showed no hesitation in taking a firm stance against demonstrations. Up until now, he has successfully contained dissent within the bounds of democracy. Critics, however, accuse Wickremesinghe of using excessive force against protesters.

Wickremesinghe’s economic management garnered praise. He engaged in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to secure financial aid and implemented measures to stabilise the currency. Additionally, he introduced several austerity measures to curb the country’s debt.

Critics argue that his austerity measures hurt the poor and that he has not done enough to address the root causes of the crisis.

The Sri Lankan government’s IMF relief package acquisition is significant. However, this came at a cost, as the government had to implement several stringent measures, such as raising personal income taxes and electricity rates.

Despite the criticism, the Sri Lankan President has defended the government’s decision to implement these measures, arguing that they are necessary to stabilise the economy and restore confidence in the country.

Sri Lanka’s next presidential election is due by November 2024. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the incumbent president, contested twice but was unsuccessful. His opponents were stronger in those elections. 

It is too early to say who will win the 2024 presidential election. However, Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a stronger position than in previous elections. He is the incumbent president and is supported by the SLPP, the country’s largest political party. 

There is no clear frontrunner in sight, as things stand now.