Gotabaya Rajapaksa (R) watches Ranil Wickremesinghe take the oath of office as the new prime minister in Colombo on Thursday. AP
Sri Lanka appointed a new prime minister on Thursday, a move President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hopes will quell weeks of worsening civil unrest in which at least nine people died this week and more than 300 were injured.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political veteran who has been prime minister of the island nation five times before, faces the daunting task of leading his country through its worst economic crisis since independence.
Economic mismanagement, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising energy costs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have drained state coffers, meaning Sri Lanka is running low on fuel and essential medicines and facing daily power blackouts.
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Rajapaksa, whose elder brother Wickremesinghe replaced as prime minister, has called nationwide curfews and given security forces sweeping powers to shoot at anyone involved in looting or putting people’s lives at risk.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday, has gone into hiding on a naval base and the president has warned of the risk of all-out anarchy.
A Sri Lankan woman watches a telecast speech of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo, Sri Lanka. AP
Ordinary people have grown increasingly frustrated at disruptions to normal life.
“We have hit the bottom economically,” said Nimal Jayantha, an autorickshaw driver queuing for petrol earlier on Thursday after the curfew was lifted.
“I don’t have the time to do my job. By the time I stay in the fuel queue and get petrol, curfew will be imposed. I will have to go home without any money.”
Gotabaya Rajapaksa (right) and Mahinda Rajapaksa pose for a photograph in Colombo. File/AFP
As well as dealing with mass protests, Wickremesinghe must unite a fractured parliament to agree on a way out of a crisis that has seen inflation soar and foreign reserves dwindle.
“He has said from the beginning, parliament needs to come together to provide a solution to the crisis,” Dinouk Colombage, media secretary from Wickremesinghe’s opposition United National Party, told Reuters.
“He is no stranger to dealing with economic and political challenges, having done so multiple times before.”