Childhood & Early Years
Ranil Wickremesinghe was born on March 24, 1949. His father, Esmond Wickremasinghe, was a successful lawyer, entrepreneur and press baron, while his mother, Nalini Wickremasinghe, was a patron of art and culture. The couple had five children; Shan, Ranil, Niraj, Channa and Kshanika. Ranil is the second eldest among the siblings.
Ranil Wickremesinghe received his primary and secondary education at Royal College Colombo, one of the leading public schools of Sri Lanka. After graduating from the school, he joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Colombo and graduated from there with a degree in law.
Later he joined Sri Lanka Law College. After completing the course at the Law College Ranil enrolled as an advocate at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, in 1972.
Continue Reading Below
Ranil Wickremesinghe joined United National Party, considered to be a right wing, pro-capitalist political party. at an early age. He was heavily involved with the youth wing of the UNP while he was still a university student. .
After passing out from Law College he began to devote more time to politics and quickly progressed through its ranks. By mid-1970s, Wickremesinghe became chief organizer of the Kelaniya Electorate. Later, he was shifted to Biyagama Electorate and won the 1977 parliamentary elections from there.
When the ministry was formed under the leadership of J. R. Jayewardene, young Wickremesinghe became the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. At that time, he was only 28 years old. His talent and enthusiasm for work impressed many top leaders.
On October 5, 1977, Wickremesinghe was made a full Cabinet Minister in charge of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Employment. He served in that capacity until the beginning of 1980 and initiated National Youth Services Council (NYSCO), which provides vocational training to school dropouts, during this period.
On February 14, 1980, Wickremesinghe became the Minister of Education and served in that capacity for nine years. During this period, he initiated radical reforms aimed at the qualitative improvement of school education, putting special emphasis on English, technology and computer skills. He also improved the Education Administrative Service.
In 1989, he was appointed as the Minister of Industries, Science and Technology. In the later capacity, he established the Biyagama Special Economic Zone and initiated industrial reforms. This is also the year when he was appointed as the Leader of the House.
In 1993, the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by rebel LTTE suicide bombers while attending the May Day rally. After his death, Prime Minister D. B. Wijetunga became the acting president and on May 7, 1993 Wickremesinghe was appointed as the new Prime Minister.
However, his tenure as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka was short lived. In 1994 general election Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) lost to People’s Alliance, which formed the new government and UNP’s Gamini Dissanayake was elected as the Leader of the opposition.
Unfortunately, Gamini Dissanayake too was assassinated by LTTE with in very short period and Wickremesinghe was elected as the leader of UNP and also the Leader of the Opposition. During this stint as opposition leader Wickremesinghe played a very positive role, supporting the government in its various agendas.
Continue Reading Below
In 1999, Wickremesinghe was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate, but lost to Chandrika Kumaratunga in a sympathy wave. She had lost an eye in LTTE attack during election campaign and this unfortunate incident turned the wave into her favor.
In 2001, United National Party won the general election under Wickremesinghe’s leadership and formed government. On December 9, Wickremesinghe took oath as Sri Lanka’s 17th Prime Minister.
His tenure as Prime Minister was marked by frequent conflict with the President Kumaratunga, who belonged to a different party. However, Wickremesinghe was able to exercise the actual control over the government.
As Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe’s main concern was to rebuild the country’s economy, ravaged by decades of civil war. To achieve this goal, he started galvanizing international goodwill and support, as a result of which Sri Lanka received $4.5 billion as reconstruction and development aid.
At the same time, he tried to break down the ethnic barrier and started a negotiation with LTTE. On February 22, 2002 Wickremesinghe signed a ceasefire agreement with the rebels. Under this agreement, both the parties agreed to end hostility.
As a result of this agreement, development work started once more and inflow of touristS started increasing. In order to find a political solution to the civil war, Wickremesinghe also started holding peace talks with LTTE under the aegis of international community.
However, his initiative in finding peaceful and permanent solution was criticized by many at home. They feared that the peace process with ultimately divide the country and destroy its sovereignty. Finally on February 7, 2004 President Kumartunga dissolved the parliament using her constitutional power. This effectively ended Wickremesinghe’s regime.
Wickremesinghe’s party lost the subsequent elections and remained out of power for more than a decade. Finally, Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka Freedom Party became President of Sri Lanka after winning the presidential election in 2015 and according to MOU signed with UNP, appointed Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minster on January 9, 2015
On being appointed as the Prime Minister for the third time Wickremesinghe promised to create more jobs and secure the future of the youth. He also visited the war-ravaged parts of the country and inaugurated many development programs in those areas. Revitalizing the economy of the country is his major priority.
He also stressed on the importance of mending relation with India, which had deteriorated during the previous regime.