Veteran Sri Lankan socialist leader D M Jayaratne, a close ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was sworn-in on Wednesday as the country's 20th prime minister after the ruling party secured a near two-thirds majority.
78-year-old Jayaratne, the senior most leader of ruling Freedom Party next only to Rajapaksa, has replaced Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, an official statement said. He was the plantations minister in the outgoing cabinet. Jayaratne, who entered parliament from Gampola electorate in 1970, was sworn in as the prime minster by Rajapaksa at his official residence Temple Trees, the statement said. Only Jayaratne, a postmaster-turned-politician, was sworn-in on Wednesday with officials saying the cabinet would take oath later. His swearing-in comes a day before the new parliament is set to commence its maiden session on Thursday.
The job of prime minister is largely ceremonial in Sri Lanka, but in the event of the president's death, the holder would be expected to step in to the top role. 78-year-old Jayaratne was a contender for the top job and has been openly stating that he should be made the prime minister. The ruling UPFA has won 144 seats in the 225-member assembly at the April 8 elections, falling short of two-thirds majority by six seats. It was expected that UPFA would get a two-thirds majority to carry out electoral reforms and bring in provisions against promoting separatism.
Born in June 7, 1931 Jayartne is one of the earliest members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party when it was founded in Kandy in 1951. He was educated at Doluwa Maha Vidyalaya where he was later a teacher. He was later postmaster at Doluwa, Gampola from 1960-62. He was defeated in the general election of 1977 and later re-elected from the Kandy District. He was a key member in organizing the People's Alliance and in the General Election of 1994, he was elected again with the highest number of votes from the Gampola electorate and appointed Minister of Land, Agriculture and Forestry in the cabinet of Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Image: Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa (L) hands over the oath of office to new Prime Minister Dissanayake Mudiyansalage Jayaratne (R) as the secretary to the president, Lalith Weeratunga, looks on in Colombo.