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New Sri Lanka PM Takes Office - 2001-12-09


Sri Lanka's new Prime Minisiter, Ranil Wickeremesinghe, took the oath of office, which was administered Sunday by his long-time political foe, President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The fiercely antagonistic leaders will have to come to a working agreement to protect Sri Lanka from a constitutional crisis.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga swore in opposition leader Ranil Wickeremsinghe as Prime Minster on Sunday, following her government's defeat in Wednesday's general election.

Wickremesinghe, leader of the United National Party, was Prime Minister when President Kumaratunga came to power in 1994. He is promising to form a broad-based government to confront a host problems facing the island nation.

A UNP leader and former cabinet minister (Tyronne Fernando) says that members of all political parties represented in Parliament will be invited to join the cabinet. President Kumaratunga retains her powers to suspend and dismiss parliament and appoint cabinet ministers, but is expected to let Mr. Wickremesinghe choose his team. Currently the President controls eight cabinet portfolios, including defense and finance.

The leaders discussed the new government on Saturday, but the shape of the cabinet will emerge only later this week.

Analysts say the law is unclear on the roles of the two leaders and the potential for conflict is enormous. They believe a tussle between the executive and parliament could provoke a constitutional crisis.

Sri Lankans elected Mr. Wickeremesinghe's United National Front coalition with 129 of 225 Parliamentary seats. The party has promised a swift negotiated settlement of the 18-year war with Tamil separatists that has claimed over 64,000 lives and stifled the economy.

Wednesday's election ended the most violent campaign in Sri Lanka's history. An overnight curfew was re-imposed following the swearing-in ceremony. Though promising cooperation with the new government, local television stations say they were prevented from covering Sunday's ceremony. The state media gave no live coverage.

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