Sri Lanka’s new President Ranil Wickremesinghe will swear in his Cabinet on Friday comprising members of the previous government including Dinesh Gunewardena, a close ally of the Rajapaksa family, who is tippled to be the next prime minister.
The previous Cabinet will function till a national government is agreed upon once Parliament convenes and then a Cabinet reshuffle will take place.
Wickremesinghe, 73, who was on Thursday sworn in as the country’s eighth president after he won a parliamentary ballot, has called for bipartisanship to address the unprecedented economic crisis the country is facing.
According to the sources, Leader of the House in the Sri Lankan Parliament 73-year-old Gunewardena is tipped to be the prime minister. He was appointed as Home Minister in April by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
A stalwart of Sri Lankan politics, Gunawardena has also served as the foreign minister and education minister.
Officials said Wickremesinghe would try to appoint an all-party government.
Wickremesinghe, a six-time former prime minister, was elected by lawmakers on Wednesday, in a rare move that could provide continuity for crucial discussions with the IMF for a bailout deal for the cash-strapped nation.
He secured 134 votes in the 225-member House while his nearest rival and dissident ruling party leader Dullas Alahapperuma got 82. Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake secured just three votes.
The main Opposition SJB officially denied on Thursday that some of its members had voted for Wickremesinghe. “No one from our side voted for him,” Ranjith Madduma Bandara, the SJB general secretary,” he said.
Meanwhile, a group of protesters who had camped opposite the prime minister’s official residence since April end, said they were ending the protest. “There was a debate that we should respect the Constitution and stop this protest,” a spokesman for the group said.
However, the main protest group which had camped blocking the entry to the President’s Office since April 9, said they would continue their struggle till Wickremesinghe resigned.
”Our victory would come only when we are able to form the people’s Assembly,” Lahiru Weerasekera, a spokesman for the group said.
Wickremesinghe told reporters that he intends taking legal action against those who continue to occupy the President’s Office.
Wickremesinghe said he would extend support to the peaceful protesters but would be tough on those who try to promote violence in the guise of peaceful protests.
Rajapaksa was forced to flee the country on July 9 when a popular uprising due to his mishandling of the economy dealt the final blow. After holding on since April despite the massive protests, Rajapaksa resigned in exile in Singapore.
Wickremesinghe on Thursday visited the Ministry of Defence as his first visit to a government institution since being elected. Constitutionally, the president holds the defence ministry.
Wickremesinghe will have a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.