His departure from office marks a victory for protesters who have been demanding the resignation of both Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for months.
Wickremesinghe remains acting president after Rajapaksa fled first to the Maldives and then to Singapore.
The news of Rajapaksa’s resignation sparked celebrations in Colombo on Thursday evening as crowds of cheering protesters lit fireworks and fireworks. People from all walks of life, young and old, took to the streets for a celebration that lasted until late at night.
Revelers who spoke to CNN said they were very pleased with the news after months of protests and economic hardship. According to them, the resignation of Rajapaksa was a victory over corruption and mismanagement in the government.
“We had one goal – to get this absolutely corrupt regime out of this country,” said Dishan Seneviratne, 45. I’m not the type of person who (usually) goes out. son’s future… (for) the next generation. We fought for it.”
Rajapaksa’s resignation took effect on Thursday, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said at a press conference on Friday.
He said Wickremesinghe would remain acting president until parliament elects a new president and lawmakers meet on Saturday to begin the process.
A date for the vote has yet to be set, but according to the constitution, Wickremesinghe will be allowed a maximum of 30 days in office.
Once elected, the new president will serve the remaining two years originally allotted for Rajapaksa’s term.
“We keep on fighting”
The political turmoil is fueled by a wider financial crisis, the worst recession in the South Asian island nation in seven decades.
The mostly peaceful protests in Sri Lanka have been on the rise since March, when public outrage spilled onto the streets over rising food prices, fuel shortages and power cuts as the country struggled to pay off debt.
But public anger flared over the weekend when demonstrators occupied the houses of Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksa headed to the Maldives, where the former president had long ties to the Rajapaksa dynasty, but departed just over 24 hours later, boarding a “Saudi flight” to Singapore on Thursday, according to a senior security source in Colombo.
Singapore said Rajapaska was allowed to enter the country on a “private visit” but did not seek or receive asylum.
Shortly after his arrival, Speaker of Parliament Abeivardenena announced that Rajapaksa had resigned.
But many protesters have vowed to keep demonstrating until the former president is held accountable for alleged mismanagement of the country.
“We keep fighting. We fight until (Rajapaksha) is properly blamed and until some action is taken… we fight as one nation until he receives proper punishment for everything he has done,” said Marian Malki. 29 people who joined the Thursday night celebration.
They also stressed the largely peaceful nature of the demonstrations: a lawyer representing the Popular Protest Movement said on Thursday that all occupied buildings, except for the presidential secretariat, would be returned to the authorities.
“We want to confirm that this is a peaceful protest and we do not intend to resort to any form of violence,” Swastika Arulingam told reporters. “It has always been and will always be a peaceful movement.”