Ranil Shriyan Wickremesinghe, MP (born March 24, 1949) is a Sri Lankan politician and current Leader of the Opposition. He was Prime Minister of Sri Lanka twice, from May 7, 1993 to August 19, 1994 and from December 9, 2001 to April 6, 2004. A member of the United National Party he was appointed as party leader in November 1994. He is also the leader of the United National Front, been appointed as the head of the alliance in October 2009.
Ranil Shriyan Wickremasinghe is the second son of Esmond and Nalini Wickremasinghe. Esmond Wickremasinghe was a press baron, an ex-Samasamajist and supremo of the Lake House group of newspapers. His paternal uncle Lakshman Wickremasinghe was a Bishop of the Church of Sri Lanka. His maternal line consisted of newspaper barons and landowners, the Wijewardenas, who were Sinhala Buddhists. His maternal grandfather was D. R. Wijewardena, the founder of the Lake House publishing empire a pro-independence activist and a financier of the independence movement. He was a nephew of J.R. Jayewardene, later President of Sri Lanka.
Wickremesinghe was educated at Royal College, Colombo where he was a classmate and a good friend of Anura Bandaranaike, son of then Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike and Dinesh Gunawardena, son of socialist leader Philip Gunawardena. Wickremasinghe entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Ceylon, Colombo campus (now University of Colombo). After graduation he completed the law exams at the Sri Lanka Law College and took oaths as an advocate in 1972. Of all the Presidents and Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe is the only person to graduate from a local university, the remainder either not attending university or having degrees from foreign universities.
Early Political career
Wickremasinghe joined the United National Party (UNP) and progressed through its ranks. He was appointed as the chief organizer of the Kelaniya Parliamentary seat in the mid 1970s but was later appointed as the chief organizer of the Biyagama seat, which he won in the 1977 parliamentary elections.
Youngest cabinet minister
He was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government of J. R. Jayawardene, and was soon promoted to the post of Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment, which made him the youngest cabinet minister of Sri Lanka. During his term as deputy minister, he initiated the Sri Lanka National Guard and the National Youth Services Council (NYSCO), which provides vocational and career training to school leavers. Wickramasinghe was later made the Minister of Education.
Prime minister (1993–1994)
Under the Presidency of Ranasinghe Premadasa, Wickremasinghe was appointed as the Minister of Industry, under which he initiated industrial reforms and established the Biyagama Special Economic Zone. Wickramasinghe had competition from his senoir colleagues in the UNP, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, who had been rivals of President Premadasa. He was appointed the Leader of the House in 1989. On May 7, 1993 Wickramasinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister after President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers, and Prime Minister D. B. Wijethunge was appointed acting president.
During his term he was credited for pushing the country through an impressive economic transformation and was generally backed by the business community.
In the 1994 parliamentary elections, the UNP lost to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA), and Kumaratunga was appointed Prime Minister of the country. Wickremasinghe was defeated in the race for Opposition Leader by two votes by fellow UNP member Gamini Dissanayake, who had re-joined the party. This gave Gamini Dissanayake the default leadership of the party and made him the presidential nominee of the UNP. The UNP was progressing well under Gamini Dissanayake’s leadership, when he too was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers. Gamini Dissanayake’s widow, Srima replaced him as the candidate of the UNP in the 1994 election. Securing just 35% of the vote, she lost to Chandrika Kumaratunga in all electorates except Mahiyangana. Afterwards, Wickramasinghe was appointed as the opposition leader as well as the UNP leader.
Wickremasinghe was seen as a co-operative opposition leader who gave the government a chance to carry out its agenda in its early days.
In the 1999 election, Wickramasinghe was nominated as UNP’s Presidential candidate. After a tense election campaign in the wake of the violent North Western Provincial Council election, the Tamil Tigers blasted a suicide bomb in an election campaign rally, in which President Kumaratunga lost her right eye. In the election held two days later December 21, 1999, amidst a wave of sympathy, Kumaratunga received 51% of the popular vote to be re-elected for another term as Executive President. The gap between Wickramasinghe and Kumaratunga was approximately 700,000 votes (6% of the valid votes). Kumaratunga was sworn in for her second term as President on December 22, 1999.
After the loss of the 1999 presidential elections, Wickremasinghe unsuccessfully led his party in the 2000 parliamentary elections, again losing out to the PA.
Prime minister (2001–2004)
In the parliamentary general election 2001 UNF, leaded by Ranil Wickremesinghe, won 109 seats and PA was able to obtain only 77 seats. Consequently he was able to form a new UNF government and sworn as the 17th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 9 December 2001.
However Chandrika Kumaratunga still remained as the President of the country. This lead to a confusing situation where the President and the Prime Minister were from two opposite parties. Although, according to the constitution, both head of state and head of government was the President, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to appoint his own cabinet and he had the actual control over the government. President Chandrika Kumaratunga also chaired cabinet meetings as de facto head, but her influence over decision making was strictly limited.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is well known for his right wing, liberal economic policies. He relied on the support of Western governments and foreign investors. During his term as Prime Minister, he made some significant reforms in order to ear n this. He emphasized in privatising government ventures and in cutting down the high public sector workforce. Ranil Wickremesinghe also stopped all recruitments to the public sector during his tenant.
However, his policies set off a considerable recovery in the down falling country’s economy. In 2002 he was able to secure a GDP growth rate of 4.0% which was -1.5% in the previous year. During the next two years of his tenant he attained the figures 5.9% and 5.4% respectively. Also he was able to keep the inflation (annul percent increase) below 10%. In December 2002 Ranil Wickremesinghe brought forward a solution package called Regaining Sri Lanka as a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in order to reduce the poverty of the country and to gain debt reliefs.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s foreign policy during his tenant as the Prime Minister was predominantly Pro-Western. He allied with countries like United States, Great Britain, Norway and Japan. He expected their economical backing to overcome the economical crisis. He also largely depended on their guidance, especially from Norway, to resolve the ongoing Ethnic Problem in Sri Lanka.
During his relatively short tenant as the Prime Minister he was able to meet a few of the world’s top leaders. He met President George W. Bush on July 2002, for the first time after 18 years a Sri Lankan leader met the US leader in the White House. This visit was primarily focused on building new relationships based on economical links between United States and Sri Lanka. Furthermore, US government pledged to support his peace efforts with LTTE. He also met the Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair , the Prime Minister of Japan Junichiro Koizumi and the Prime Minister of India Atal Behari Vajpayee. Many of these visits were focused on the issues regarding resolving the Ethnic Problem in Sri Lanka.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s believed a political solution based on a United Sri Lanka was the permanent solution to the Ethnic Problem in Sri Lanka. He also believed that such an solution could be reached through a peaceful negotiation process with LTTE.
Ceasefire Agreement (CFA)
Three months after the election Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government entered into a ceasefire agreement (CFA) with LTTE. The agreement was signed on 22 February 2002 at different locations in the war zone by both parties and Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jon Westborg acted as the facilitator. It was said that the main objective of this agreement was to find a negotiated solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Both parties agreed to halt all offensive military operations. An international monitoring mission called Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was formed to enquire into any instance of violation of the terms and conditions of this agreement.
In the aftermath of signing CFA the island was deemed as a safe place once again, after decades of war. Specially tourism industry experienced a significant escalation where the number of tourists arrived to the country was suddenly increased. The A9 Highway was reopened up to Kilinochchi on 15 February 2002 after 18 years. Many checkpoints and road blocks were removed in government controlled areas.
After signing CFA Ranil Wickremesinghe held a few rounds of peace talks with LTTE between 2002-2003. Prof. G. L. Peiris, minister Milinda Moragoda and minister Rauff Hakeem led the government delegation and LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham, LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan and military leader Karuna Amman led the LTTE faction during the peace talks. The Royal Norwegian government acted as the chief facilitator during the peace talks. There were six rounds of peace talks which were held at different locations around the world:
1. 16-18 September 2002, Bangkok 
2. 31 October-3 November 2002, Bangkok 
3. 2-5 December 2002, Oslo 
4. 6-9 January 2003, Bangkok 
5. 7-8 February 2003, Berlin 
6. 18-21 March 2003, Tokyo 
After the Oslo round of peace talks in December 2003, a concluding statement was declared by the Norwegian facilitators which later became known as Oslo Declaration. In this statement it was stated that “both parties have decided to explore a political solution founded on internal self-determination based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka”. This was considered as one of the most significant incidents in the history of finding a political solution to the Ethnic Problem in Sri Lanka.
After the 6th round of peace talks in March 2003 LTTE abruptly withdrew from the peace talks. However in October 2003 LTTE again showed some intensions of entering into the peace process, calling for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA). The proposal was handed over to the government through Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar.
Criticism on Peace Process
The opposition and the nationalistic movements of the country strongly opposed CFA and the overall peace process of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s regime. They continuously criticized and protested against CFA claiming it as a threat to the sovereignty of the country which ultimately leads the way to a separate state for LTTE, so called Ealam. It was later claimed by Karuna Amman who defected from the LTTE during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s regime that the LTTE dragged the peace talks in order to smuggle weapons and ammunition including aircraft.
LTTE continuously violated CFA in great many occasions. In August 2007 SLMM agreed that LTTE had violated CFA in total 3830 occasions while government of Sri Lanka had violated CFA in only 351 occasions. Several Sri Lankan Army intelligence operatives were allegedly killed by LTTE during this period.
Nationalistic movements of the country also widely criticized the proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority by LTTE arguing that would divide the country. They claimed it had all the pre-requirements for a separate state for LTTE. Ultimately CFA and its consequences became the main topic of debate during Presidential Election. It was evident from the results of the election that the Sinhalese majority of the country disapproved of CFA.
End of the Regime
Few days after LTTE proposed of the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA), President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three ministers of the cabinet and took over the ministries using her constitutional powers ending the uneasy coalition between her and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe while he was out of the country. Addressing the nation she claimed that this decision was taken in the interest of national security.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna also decided to ally with PA in order to defeat the Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government which they claimed as a threat to the sovereignty of the country. Consequently President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved the parliament on 7 February 2004 which effectively ended Ranil Wickremesinghe’s regime.
In the 2004 Parliamentary Elections held on April 2 Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNF lost governmental office. Despite the expectation of a full six year term, and planned projects cut short by the defeat, the UNP was optimistic that it could regain power in a future election. Within 14 months of UPFA”s victory, the radical JVP wing’s (composed of over 30 members) parting of ways with the government, left the UPFA’s parliamentary composition well short of the required majority.
Presidential Election 2005
In December 2004, Wickremesinghe was chosen by the United National Party as its Presidential candidate for Presidential Elections due in late 2005. The Supreme Court decided in August 2005 that the elections should be held that year despite the President’s argument that her term would end in 2006. Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Prime Minister, was nominated as the Presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
In the Presidential Election held on November 17, 2005, Wickremesinghe was defeated narrowly by Mahinda Rajapaksa, who gained 50.29% of the vote to Wickramasinghe’s 48.43%. A large number of the minority Tamil population in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, who were largely expected to back Wickramasinghe were prevented from voting by the extremist LTTE, which had enforced a boycott of the polls.
Dissent within the Party
Dr. Sarath Amunugama and Nanda Mathew were the first UNP members of parliament to crossover and joined the government in 1999 during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenant as the leader of UNP. This was followed by Wijayapala Mendis, a veteran UNPer and a member of parliament since 1965, who joined the government in 2000.
In 2004 after the defeat in 2004 parliamentary election a senior member of UNP and a former minister of Ranil Wickramasinghe’s 2001-2004 government, Rohitha Bogollagama switched sides and allied with government. Soon after the defeat in the presidential election in 2005 Mahinda Samarasinghe and Keheliya Rambukwella defected to the government. Both were former ministers of Ranil Wickramasinghe’s 2001-2004 government and senior members of the party. Mahinda Samarasinghe was the government chief whip (2001-2004) and the opposition chief whip(2004-2006). Keheliya Rambukwella had gained the highest number of votes in 2004 parliamentary election from Kandy district.
Following the controversy that resulted in the rejection of the UNP list of candidates for the Colombo Municipal Council election in 2006 that lead to the UNP losing control over the Council after 50 years, prompted several senior members in the party to challenge Wickremesinghe’s leadership and demanded his resignation as party leader. This group pushed to have Wickremesinghe replaced by the deputy party leader Karu Jayasuriya. However this bid fell thought due to the lack of support from the majority of the party seniors.
In 2007, Wickremesinghe established a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government agreeing to UNP’s collaboration with the government on issues of national interest. However, shortly afterwards, 17 of the UNP’s 60 members in parliament, including the group who had challenged Wickremesinghe’s leadership, lead by deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya crossed over to the governing UPFA ranks in parliament and were given ministerial appointments. The group consisted of senior members of UNP and many of them were former ministers of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s 2001-2004 government: Karu Jayasuriya (Deputy Leader of UNP), M. H. Mohamed (former speaker of the parliament), Milinda Moragoda, G. L. Peiris, Bandula Gunawardane, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Gamini Lokuge, P. Dayaratna, Mano Wijeyeratne, Rajitha Senaratne, R.D. Sirisena, Mahinda Wijesekara, Naween Dissanayake, Hemakumara Nanayakkara, R. M. Dharmadasa Banda, Neomal Perera and Chandrasiri Sooriyaarachchi. However in late 2008, Jayasuriya crossed over once again to the opposition and was given back the deputy leader post.
In February 2008, Wickremasinghe was once again under pressure to step down from the party leadership to accept an advisory position, from a majority of the UNP’s parliamentary group. In March, the UNP working committee decided to create a new post called Senior Leader of the party and appointed Wickremasinghe to the post. This was amid discussion with the UNP’s parliamentary group about the need for the Wickremasinghe to relinquish his post (of party leader) so that a new leader could be appointed. However, late March the party working committee decided that he should remain as the party leader.
The defection of the party stalwarts to join the government continued thereafter: Susantha Punchinilame, Mahinda Rathnathilaka and Nandimithra Ekanayake who were members of parliament,a famous business tycoon and UNP Anuradhapura district leaderThilanga Sumathipala, a promient UNP youth leader and a member of Western Provincial Council R. Duminda Silva, a former UNP member of parliament and a veteran actor Ravindra Randeniya, opposition leader in North Western Provincial Council Ashoka Wadigamangawa all allied with the government in different occasions.
S.B. Dissanayake, a senior UNP leader, joined the government in December 2009. He was the national organizer of the party,and the opposition leader in Central Provincial Council. S.B. Dissanayake obtained the highest number of votes in Kandy District in 2009 Provincial Council Elections.
The most recent defection was the members of Parliament Johnston Fernando and Indika Bandaranayake joining the government.
Provincial Elections (2008 – 2009)
With the success in defeating LTTE in war, government held a series of provincial elections in 2008 and 2009 for 8 provincial councils (Eastern, North Central, Sabaragamuwa, North Western, Central, Western, Uva and Southern). In all occasions UNP was soundly defeated by a large margin by UPFA. Of all the elections UNP obtained only 30% of the total polled and UPFA was able to gain 59% of the total polled. The magin was 2,527,783 compared to 180,786 in Presidential Election in 2005.
Presidential Election 2010
Ranil Wickramasinghe, signed an Alliance Agreement with twelve other opposition parties in November 2009 and he announced that, a Common Candidate would be fielded for the Presidential Election which will be held in 2010. Later he announced that the former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka has been selected as the common candidate and pledged to support him.
In 1994, he married Dr Maitree Wickramasinghe,a Senior Lecturer of the Department of English at the University of Kelaniya. She is the only daughter of the late Senevi B. Wickremasinghe and Shiranee Wickremasinghe (née Bandaratilaka) of Nawala, Koswatte.
He is a member of Mont Pelerin Society. The society held a special meeting in Sri Lanka in year 2004 under his influence, when he was Prime Minister.