July 21 (BP) — Former Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in Thursday as president and he promised Sri Lankans that he will not be like his predecessor, who was effectively run out of town by protesters angry over the country’s ongoing economic turmoil.
Wickremesinghe took over as interim president after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore and resigned early this week. On Wednesday, Sri Lanka lawmakers elected him to serve out at least the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which runs into 2024.
Although lawmakers elected him to succeed the ousted president, there is considerable opposition among the Sri Lankan public about Wickremesinghe’s leadership.
Wickremesinghe was a longtime ally to Rajapaksa and many Sri Lankans have said, essentially, that he’s no better. The new president is pushing back against that belief.
“I am not a friend of the Rajapaksas. I am a friend of the people,” Wickremesinghe said after he was elected Wednesday, according to BBC News.
Sri Lanka’s worsening economic crisis has led to widespread opposition and demonstrations in the country over the past several weeks. During the protests, some demonstrators occupied the offices and private homes of Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa.
Inflation in Sri Lanka is forecast to peak at 70% over the next two months, the country’s central bank has said.
Whether the unrest subsides or continues remains to be seen. Some protesters were still occupying the president’s office on Thursday and dozens gathered outside in Colombo after Wickremesinghe was sworn in Thursday.
Wickremesinghe warned that ongoing protests will be handled firmly and according to the law.
Since his election Wednesday, Wickremesinghe has promised to make a deal with the International Monetary Fund for assistance to address the economic crisis. Rajapaksa’s refusal to seek help from the IMF is one of several things that aggravated the ongoing turmoil.
Sri Lanka could be eligible for $3 billion in fiscal aid from the IMF over three years.