Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Profile: Ranil Wickramasinghe

Ranil Wickramasinghe has twice run unsuccessfully for the office of Sri Lankan president.

Mr Wickramasinghe has pushed for peace with the Tamil rebels

He lost to Mahinda Rajapakse in 2005 and Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999.

Mr Wickramasinghe became Sri Lanka's prime minister in 2001 and negotiated a ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels aimed at ending the country's long-running ethnic conflict.

But he lost power in 2004, after Mrs Kumaratunga called early elections.

During his term as prime minister, he began peace talks with the Tamil rebels, even offering a power-sharing deal.

But both Mrs Kumaratunga and Mr Rajapakse accused him of being too lenient with the Tamil rebels and of offering them too many concessions.

Power struggle

Mr Wickramasinghe first became known as the nephew of Sri Lanka's first executive president, Junius Jayewardene.

A lawyer by profession, Mr Wickramasinghe comes from an affluent family of politicians and businessmen.

He was first elected to parliament in 1977 and quickly moved up the party ladder after Ranasinghe Pramadasa was elected president in 1989.

He was made the minister of industries and leader of the house, and then went on to be prime minister for 16 months until Mrs Kumaratunga's People's Alliance coalition came to power in 1994.

In the same year, he became the leader of the United National Party (UNP) when Gamini Dissanayake was killed by suspected rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers).

The Tamil rebels agreed to ceasefire with the government last year
Mr Wickramasinghe improved his party's image by appointing a disciplinary commission to get rid of corrupt party members.

He tried to change his personal image with various different haircuts to give himself a more appealing look.

He also tried to broaden the UNP's public support by touring many villages.

The threat of Tamil violence dogged Mr Wickramasinghe, as it had done his predecessors.

He narrowly escaped assassination when a bomb went off at a meeting he was addressing in the town of Eppawala.


Mr Wickramasinghe lost in the presidential elections in December 1999 in what observers said was a sympathy vote for President Kumaratunga after she was injured in a bomb attack.

In his 2001 election campaign, he pledged to curb presidential powers.

President Kumaratunga has accused Mr Wickramasinghe of being lenient to the rebels

The divisions between the pair drove Sri Lankan politics for more than a decade, but became even more apparent after the election.

Mr Wickramasinghe is credited with pushing the country through an impressive economic transformation, and is generally backed by the business community.

He managed a ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels - ending 20 years of civil war - brokered by Norwegian mediators in February 2002.

The Tigers dropped a demand for independence in favour of regional autonomy.

But differences between Mrs Kumaratunga and Mr Wickramasinghe over the approach to the peace process continued to harden.

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