Sept 22 (Bloomberg) After fleeing Sri Lanka and spending nearly two months in self-imposed exile, former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa returned this month to a freshly painted, heavily guarded colonial-style bungalow in one of the island’s swankiest neighborhoods.
Much has changed since demonstrators drove Rajapaksa from office in July, the climax of months of protests after record-high inflation and depleted currency reserves bankrupted a country with 22 million people.
At 73, Wickremsinghe is in the twilight of his career and has struggled to connect with voters.
“Ranil is transparently a partner of the Rajapaksas,” said Dayan Jayatilleka, a former Sri Lankan diplomat and political analyst. “He’s entirely reliant on the ruling party.”
A spokesperson for Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t return requests for comment. Members of his party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, said in interviews that Wickremesinghe was chosen by Parliament as president because of his extensive track record in government and a strength in economic management.
“As a ruling party we could not come up with proper solutions,” said D.B. Herath of the ruling SLPP, whom Ranil appointed as state minister for livestock this month. “Though we have different policy stances, we are cooperating to find solutions to the problems of the people.”
Gotabaya’s return to Sri Lanka, despite months of the unrest, shows the resilience of the Rajapaksas, who have somehow managed to hang onto political power after leaving much of the population unable to purchase fuel or find food supplies. At one point, public support for the clan fell to 10% and demonstrators torched the family’s ancestral home.
Whether an alliance between Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksa’s party can last until the next presidential election in 2024 remains an open question. Foreign currency reserves continue to dwindle, falling to less than $1.8 billion in August, with IMF funds unlikely to arrive for several months. Bondholders are furious over unpaid debt. And Wickremesinghe’s lack of popular support may make it tough to pass revenue-raising measures that might be required by creditors.