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Sri Lankan lawmakers chose 6-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as president

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Sri Lanka's new president will try to end up better than his predecessor did.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Indeed. The new president is the former prime minister. His name is Ranil Wickremesinghe, and he takes over one week after the former president fled the country. Last week, protesters crowded the presidential mansion, celebrated the old president's departure, even swam in his pool. They were demonstrating against a shortage of essentials, like food, medicine and fuel.

INSKEEP: Reporter Raksha Kumar is following this story from nearby India. Welcome to the program.

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did the new president get the job?

KUMAR: Well, Sri Lanka's parliament voted in the acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as their new president. But the problem is that this is exactly what the protesters did not want. Now, primarily because he was known to be close to the former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who, as you said, was forced to flee. And Wickremesinghe will remain in office, at least in theory, until 2024, which was the end of Rajapaksa's term.

INSKEEP: You said, at least in theory, meaning that there might be some doubt as to whether he can endure the protesters.

KUMAR: Yeah. I mean, protests are reportedly under way in certain parts of Colombo and certain other parts of Sri Lanka. I spoke to some of the protesters, and they were extremely unhappy with the decision that their parliament has taken. They are voicing their displeasure on social media, as we can see. And they are promising further chaos.

INSKEEP: And this is a guy who has been part of the government for many years prior, even if he was not president previously. If he manages to stay in the job, if he manages to calm the streets enough to do something, what is it that he needs to do to address the wrecked economy?

KUMAR: You're right. Wickremesinghe has been the prime minister of the country for six terms, so he is no newbie in the office. But what he needs to do - experts in Sri Lanka and in other parts of South Asia that I spoke to were saying that he needs to liaise with the International Monetary Fund. And if the IMF pitches in with their help, then other countries might pitch in, too. So he would need to liaise with them as well - Japan, China, etc. - who are actually waiting to see if the IMF trusts the country's leadership. The IMF, of course, will, you know, come to the aid of any country only on certain conditions. So it would be his job to bring in austerity measures. So this means that he might further alienate the already alienated population.

INSKEEP: How does this economic and political crisis in Sri Lanka fit in with what's going on throughout the region that you cover, South Asia?

KUMAR: Well, 1 in 4 people in the world lives in South Asia. So any blow to the economies of this region will have lasting effects on millions of people across the region. And that is to say that Sri Lanka's crisis is not an isolated one. There are several other countries that are down the similar trajectory. So last week, Pakistan reached an agreement with the IMF to resume its loan program. So they were forced to raise fuel and electricity prices. And the country's economy is not in a great shape at all. The Maldives has actually seen a tremendous rise in public debt. Nepal has cut imports of luxury goods, you know, to save on their foreign exchange. So as a whole, the region is in crisis.

INSKEEP: Country after country. Reporter Raksha Kumar, thanks so much.

KUMAR: Thanks, Steve. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Raksha Kumar