President of Sri Lanka and Leader of the United National Party
Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as the President of Sri Lanka on 21st July 2022. He has been the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on six occasions. He was first appointed PM from 1993 – 1994 after the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Subsequently, from 2001 to 2004, he was elected as the Prime Minister to lead the United National Front Government during the presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunge. In January 2015, he was appointed as the Prime Minister of the coalition government after the election of President Maithripala Sirisena. His appointment was sanctioned by the Sri Lankan people at the general election of August 2015. Once again, in December 2018, President Sirisena was compelled to reappoint him as PM after illegally dismissing him in October 2018. In November 2019, after the defeat of the UNP presidential candidate, he resigned from his position as Prime Minister. In May 2022, he accepted the invitation made by President Gothabhaya Rajapakse to be appointed the Prime Minister of an interim government to extend his expertise and experience in mitigating the economic and political meltdown in the country.
He is the Leader of the United National Party (UNP), Sri Lanka’s oldest political party, founded in 1946. He is one of Sri Lanka’s most senior and experienced legislators who has served the country as an MP in all Parliaments since 1977 (apart from a break of 10 months from August 2020 to June 2021).
Born in 1949 after Sri Lanka gained independence from the British, Ranil Wickremesinghe is truly a leader of the new independent era. A lawyer by profession, he was elected to Parliament in 1977 (aged 28), having worked in the Youth League of the UNP from his university days. As the youngest Minister in Sri Lanka at the time, he held the post of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Jayewardene. Very soon, in recognition of his exceptional talents and unique capacity for work, he was appointed to the Cabinet of Ministers as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment. Later on, he was given the portfolio of education. Then in 1989, as a seasoned legislator, he was made the Leader of the House under President Premadasa. He also served as the Minister of Industries, Science and Technology.
From 1977 to 1994, during the seventeen years that the UNP was consecutively returned to power, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as a dynamic young politician, had a crucial impact on the country’s development. Many consider him the best education minister produced by the country due to the radical reforms he initiated in the 1980s aimed at the qualitative improvement of school education. The reforms involve upgrading subjects such as English and introducing Technology and Computer skills. He also professionalised the educational service via the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service (SLEAS). He launched the National Institute of Education (NIS) and the colleges of education to provide training for Sri Lankan teachers. He also instituted the National Youth Services Centre at Maharagama and the national youth corps (NYC) – a youth development organisation. Apprenticeship training was reorganised, leading to the founding of the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA) and vocational training centres. He energised the young people in Sri Lanka with creative, motivational, skill development programs through youth clubs (Yovun Samaja) and youth camps (Yovunpura).
Later, as the Minister of Industries, Science and Technology (1989 – 1994), he was responsible for Sri Lanka’s second round of economic liberalisation in 1989. It concentrated on financial de-regularisation and industrial promotion in rural areas through infrastructure development and the institution of industrial estates. Along with the Science and Technology Act, he introduced Sri Lanka to the IT age by initiating the Info-Sri Lanka exhibitions, and in 1993 signed the agreement with US Vice-President Al Gore to get the country connected to the Internet. His industrialisation strategy led to President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s 200 garment factories project. Among the other industries promoted was value addition in rubber gloves and automobile and industrial tires.
In 1977, Biyagama was one of the least developed constituencies in the island. As the MP for Biyagama, he dramatically developed his electorate to become a modern model suburb with carpeted roads, electricity, water, sanitation, schools, community centres and other infrastructure. Due to his economic development program, Biyagama is today one of the leading export-oriented regional economies. It has an investment promotion zone that includes the Biyagama Free Trade Zone (1985) on one side of the Kelani River and the Seethawaka Investment Promotion Zone (1993) on the other) and several manufacturing areas that employ thousands of young men and women in a range of industries.
Prime Minister Ranil
In 1993 after the untimely demise of President Premadasa, Ranil Wickremesinghe was unexpectedly appointed the Prime Minister during the brief presidency of D. B. Wijetunge. Ever ready for a challenge, the young Prime Minister rose to the responsibility of high office. He is credited for ensuring the country’s law, order and stability at this crucial juncture. During this short period, he drove the economy; the country recorded its highest economic growth of the decade. He introduced new technologies and strengthened the Army with a new program of training to fight the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam).
Leader of the United National Party and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
After the UNP was voted out in 1994, Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Leader of the United National Party. Under his leadership, the UNP has undertaken several rounds of extensive restructuring at institutional and grassroots levels from time to time. He has worked to democratise the party to ensure a more equitable balance in representation, especially when it comes to ethnicity, gender and youth.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, a position he held from 1994 to 2001 and 2004 to 2015.
Prime Minister Again and Again
In 2001, Ranil Wickremesinghe led his party back to power and was sworn in as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2004. Despite a president from an opposing party at the helm of the state and a rampant Opposition in Parliament, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s most significant achievements were to restore full-time electricity, rejuvenate the ailing economy from a growth rate of -1.55% to 3.96% in 2002, break down the many ethnic barriers in the country, bring the warring LTTE to the negotiating table for peace talks, and galvanise the goodwill and financial support of the international community for Sri Lanka. For the first time, in 2004, the country became self-sufficient in rice after many centuries.
After another stint in the Opposition, in January 2015, Ranil Wickremesinghe functioned as Prime Minister following President Sirisena’s election. A few months later, he won the general elections to continue as PM. This time too, he had to carry out governmental affairs under an increasingly hostile President from 2018 onwards. Despite the manipulations of President Sirisena, significant achievements during this era included a series of legislative and legal reforms to institute good governance. This involved pruning the extensive powers of the presidency and a return to parliamentary democracy via the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Other legislation included the repeal of the criminal defamation provisions of the Penal Code, enacting the Right to Information Act, the National Audit Act, and the Active Liability Management Act. Parliamentary oversight committees were instituted to ensure due process in the execution of law and order (thereby improving the human rights profile of the country). Legislation was enacted to enhance women’s participation in politics, leading to a minimum quota of 25% women’s representation at the local authority level in 2018. Actions taken for macroeconomic stability led to Sri Lanka’s primary budget indicating a surplus in 2015, for the first time after 62 years. It was repeated in 2019. Other achievements include upgrading the health and educational sectors (establishing an island-wide emergency medical service – Suvasariya), strengthening diplomatic relations, and enhancing Sri Lanka’s international image.
In August 2020, Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP were defeated, and the Party only retained a single bonus seat in Parliament. He had virtually retired when the Party nominated him back to Parliament on the national list. This was so that he could offer his expertise to ease the growing crisis in the country due to the Rajapakse regime’s mismanagement of the economy and the Covid pandemic.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was born on 24th March 1949 and in 1995 married Maithree Wickramasinghe, the Chair Professor of English and the founding director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya. An internationally recognised writer/speaker on gender and women’s studies, her work interfaces research, teaching/training, policy development, advocacy and activism.
He is the second son of Esmond and Nalini Wickremesinghe. He has three brothers and one sister who have distinguished themselves in their professions and fields of interest. Esmond Wickremesinghe was an eminent press magnate and one-time President of the International Press Institute. He was awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom in 1965 (the annual award to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the defence of press freedom). Nalini Wickremesinghe was the daughter of D R Wijewardene (one of the country’s famed freedom fighters and the press baron who founded Sri Lanka’s largest publishing house Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.). She was a patron of the arts who contributed significantly to the revival of Sinhala drama, craft and culture from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Education and Other Pursuits
Ranil Wickremesinghe received his primary and secondary education at Royal College, Colombo. Having graduated from Colombo University with a Degree in Law, he enrolled as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 1972. He then practised as a lawyer for five years. In 2014, he was the Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at the Centre for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA. In 2017, in recognition of his outstanding political service to the country, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Deakin, Australia. He was appointed the Asia Pacific Democrat Union Chair (2015 – 2022) and has been an (ex officio) Deputy Chair of the International Democrat Union.
Outside of politics, he is the patron of the Geopolitical Cartographer (GC), an international think tank specialising in the Indian Ocean. The GC aims to promote the study, research, and analysis of the geopolitical and geoeconomic developments in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and the connected landmass, which are redrawing the global political order.
Commitments and Interests
Ranil Wickremesinghe has served as the Chair of the Dhayakasabha of one of Sri Lanka’s historic temples, the Kelaniya Vihara and is a Dhayakaya of the temples Gangaramaya, Walukaramaya and the Weragodalla (Sedawatte) temples. He has written and spoken widely on Sri Lankan history, literature, world politics and Buddhism. As a passionate reader, he devours books, and web articles relating to regional politics, international affairs and world history on his cherished Ipad. He appreciates Sinhala music, western classics, opera, and Bollywood songs. Ranil Wickremesinghe relishes Sri Lankan and international cuisine and travelling to places of historical interest with his spouse.