Below is an article marking the 74th birthday of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the incumbent President of Sri Lanka.
LNW has been writing annual birthday memos to Mr. Wickremesinghe since 2009, the year we arrived as an online news aggregator. During this period of 14 years, our birthday wishes may have been conveyed to Mr. Wickremesinghe under various titles before his initials, Leader of the Opposition Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Leader of the United National Party Wickremesinghe, and even Member of Parliament Wickremesinghe, but this will notably be the first time one is written to a ‘President Wickremesinghe.’
Wickremesinghe arrived in Parliament in 1977 and has been an active politician in various capacities till 2020, only to meet a certain defeat and remain unvocal for a brief period of time. He returned to Parliament on June 23, 2021 as the sole Member of Parliament of the United National Party securing the only national seat gained by the country’s oldest political party in the 2020 General Election, preventing its collateral damage. Being sworn in as a Member of Parliament that day, Mr. Wickremesinghe may have never thought that he will end being the 9th Executive President of Sri Lanka.
Eleven months passed since his 2021 swearing in before the Speaker, and on May 12, 2022 Mr. Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, and then the acting President on July 15, 2022 and the Executive President on July 21, 2022.
The “Ranil Can’t Do Anything” campaign engineered by his political opponents made its first grand appearance in 2001 – 2003, and after two decades he became the 9th Executive President of Sri Lanka. Being the first citizen and the Head of State, Mr. Wickremesinghe who grappled against the worst economic crisis befallen Sri Lanka since independence and its official status of being a ‘bankrupt’ nation amidst the debt repayment failure for the last nine months is making positive efforts to restore the country, and thus the International Monetary Fund (IMF) officially approved a $ 2.9 billion bailout package within his leadership.
To lay down an example as to how political criticism against Mr. Wickremesinghe turned a boomerang back to those who had created it, ex-President Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected as the 7th Executive President under Wickremesinghe’s blessings and put every effort to stamp out Wickremesinghe in return, has now been almost rejected by mainstream politics, while Wickremesinghe wears the crown.
It is an undeniable fact that many people are deliberately forgetting the situation that existed within the country a year ago. Endless queues waiting for their quota of fuel and gas were evident of people falling into their deaths by either stroke or conflict ended up in murder, and island wide blackouts were very common on a daily basis. A customer was allowed to purchase only up to five kilograms of rice and 500 grams of lentils, needless to mention in a queue. Hospitals and even pharmacies across the country suffered from a severe shortage of medicines. Sri Lanka was recognised as a country where protesting day and night was the norm and employment and children’s education were a joke. Many countries around the world issued travel advisory warning their citizens not to visit the island nation due to its then ongoing unsettlement. Sri Lanka was blacklisted from international fiscal agencies making it a ‘bankrupt’ nation. In laymen’s terms, no politician was capable of even imagining the recovery of this tangled yarn.
Should anyone continue to believe that Mr. Wickremesinghe ought not to be thanked for the change we experience now, they are but those who stabbed themselves in the conscience for the hailing of a mere political symbol.
More than four decades passed since the ‘Open Economy’ was introduced to Sri Lanka, and we still have to take steps to restore the basics of it from the scratch. Anyone questioning the benefits of an open economy can find the answer on the question itself. That is, we have no implemented an open economy in full force for four decades. Any attempt to implement the Open Economy had severely been hindered throughout the decades, and Mr. Wickremesinghe, who was in Parliament when the concept was first introduced, is now shouldering the responsibility of bringing it to fruition as the Head of State.
The truth, as harsh as it may sound, is that the future of Sri Lanka lies at the hands of Mr. Wickremesinghe in this moment. Therefore, up to which extent will the people of this country support Mr. Wickremesinghe will decide the lengths into which Sri Lanka can move away from this economic hassle. Needless to mention that this support should also be proportionate to the extent of which Mr. Wickremesinghe is ready to listen to the people.
In a time the elimination of waste and corruption, cutting costs, and cutting Parliament Members’ salaries and pensions carry extreme propaganda value, it should also be noted that Mr. Wickremesinghe in his capacity as a parliamentarian, a prime minister, a minister and now the President has never consumed his paycheque for personal interests since 1977, but credited for the welfare of the people. Only he never bragged about it.
Our closing remark should make it clear that the IMF bailout is not the solution to everything, but the step one of economic recovery as a country. As there is still a very long way to go, the path can only be led by a leader who puts the interests of the country above his personal political ambitions.
So, Mr. President, we congratulate you!
*Adapted from original Sinhala Article, “ජනපති රනිල්ට සුබ උපන් දිනයක් !” published on 24.03.2023