In May 1993, Ranil unexpectedly became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, after the tragic demise of President Premadasa.
“There was utter chaos on the streets when the bomb went off during the May Day procession. I had just walked past President Premadasa in Armour Street. People were running, ambulances were screeching, and the President’s security could not find him. I thought that this was a bad sign. There was a Rupavahini van going by, I got into it with Imthiaz Bakeer Markar and had us dropped off at the Defence Ministry. When it was confirmed that President Premadasa was dead, I had to ensure law and order and it was imperative that Prime Minister Wijetunge was sworn in swiftly as the President of the country to prevent a gap in leadership or any violent aftermath.”
In his capacity as Prime Minister, Ranil strengthened Sri Lanka’s bilateral and multilateral ties with other nations in the region and the Commonwealth. The country’s highest levels of economic growth for the decade were recorded during Ranil’s term as the Prime Minister. During this short period, Ranil gave his wholehearted support, encouragement and corporation to Army Commander Lieutenant General Jerry de Silva to carry out a new program of training after the setbacks received in Kilali in 1993 as has been acknowledged in the official fifty year memoir of the Sri Lankan Army.
In the General Elections of 1994, the UNP was voted out after 17 consecutive years in power. At the time and even later in 2004 after his second term in power, Ranil has been commended for relinquishing office without further ado once the people’s verdict was made known.
In November 1994, Ranil became the Leader of the United National Party and the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The many years in political power has taken a toll on the organizational structure and implementational capacity of the party. Under his leadership, the UNP undertook extensive restructuring at institutional and grassroots levels and further democratised the Party to represent a more equitable balance in terms of ethnicity, gender and youth. Women political activists of the UNP Women’s League were brought together under the Lak Vanitha banner, while the UNP Youth League was renamed and reorganised as the Yowun Peramuna. Under Ranil, the UNP pledged to look after the interests of women, stating their plan of action in women’s manifestos at elections.
The time in the Opposition was marked by Ranil’s extreme fortitude and tolerance, sometimes, taxing the patience of his party members. It was his primary concern to reform and strengthen the UNP that had by then developed many internal splits, as is generally the case with any political party when not in power. This was not helped by electoral defeats at the Local Government and Provincial Councils where the electoral bias is generally for the governing party. Furthermore, at the 2009 Presidential Elections (contested by Ranil), a LTTE suicide bomber swung the vote in favour of President Chandrika Kumaratunge who was injured in the blast. Despite these setbacks, his reputation as a gentleman in politics remained unchallenged, so much so, that it was often remarked that “he said what he was going to do and did what he said he would do” (kiyana dhe karana, karana dhe kiyana), a slogan that he later adopted for an election campaign.
By 2001 the country was fiscally ailing due to economic mismanagement. Once again, fighting had broken out in the North. For the first time in its history the country recorded a negative economic growth rate of -1.3%. The people were severely affected by eight-hour long power cuts on a daily basis. On the 9th of December Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Leader of the United National Party and the United National Front was sworn in as the 12th Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka after having convincingly won the Parliamentary General Elections. A Prime Minister who was very clear in his mind that he had to lead and serve not only his constituency, supporters and the members of the UNP but all the people of Sri Lanka.