Victim Of Peace

The man who is seeking re-election as Sri Lanka's prime minister at April 2 polls halted an ethnic war raging for decades, but his handling of the peace process may have landed him in trouble. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe, 55, has turned the vote into a referendum on his internationally-backed bid to secure a permanent peace deal with Tamil Tiger rebels after establishing a truce in place since February 2002.

"The main issue at this election campaign is the peace process and the handling of the economy," Wickremesinghe said after unveiling a six-page document setting out his United National Party's program earlier this month.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga had accused him of risking national security and conceding too much to Tigers.

That was the basis for sacking the parliament controlled by him and calling polls four years ahead of schedule.

A nephew of Sri Lanka's first executive president, Junius Jayewardene, Wickremesinghe wooed the West as well as neighbouring India to win unprecedented support for ending the island's ethnic bloodshed that has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1972.

The dividends came in June last year when the international community promised US$ 4.5 bn in support of his peace drive to rebuild Sri Lanka.

But while he was in Washington to meet President George W. Bush, Kumaratunga pulled the rug under his feet by taking away his control over security forces in November last year.

What Wickremesinghe lacks in charisma, he makes up with his management skills.

"His public relations is almost non-existent, but his conflict management skills are very sharp," said a close confidant referring to his talks with the Tigers.

He managed to revive the economy in 2002 to record 4.0 percent growth, pulling the country from its first ever recession in 2001 when the GDP growth hit a negative 1.5 percent.

The markets also love Wickremesinghe. It was when he was effectively managing the economy that the country's stock exchange became the world's best gainer in early 1994.

It was set to establish another record last year just before the political crisis erupted and stockbrokers say the bourse is looking for a Wickremesinghe win. (Source: AFP)

Written on March 26, 2004