Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the country’s first president to step down after he fled the country amid protests over the country’s unprecedented economic crisis, when demonstrators demanded his resignation.
Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeiwardana confirmed that Mr Rajapaksa, who is accused by protesters of economic mismanagement, “legally resigned” as of Thursday.
He is the first Sri Lankan president to step down since the country adopted a presidential system of government in 1978.
Mr. Rajapaksa had previously notified the speaker from Singapore by email that he was retiring.where did he originally escape from .
Protesters cheered for the liberation of the prime minister’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka on July 14, 2022. Source: AARP, EPA / Chamila Karunaratne
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country’s prime minister, who is also being called for to step down, will automatically become acting president until parliament elects an MP to succeed Mr. Rajapaksa for the remainder of his term.
The legislature will convene on Saturday, Abeywardana told reporters at his residence, adding that he hoped to complete the electoral process “within seven days.”
What led to the president’s resignation?
Mr Rajapaksa’s departure comes after months of protests over what critics say was his mismanagement of the island nation’s economy, which has put its 22 million people in severe hardship.
The mounting economic crisis caused Sri Lanka to default on its $51 billion (AU$75 billion) external debt in April, and it is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about possible bailouts.
But talks have been thrown off course by political turmoil, and an IMF spokesman said Thursday the fund hopes the unrest will be settled soon so talks can resume.
The island has nearly exhausted its already meager supply of gasoline, and the government has ordered non-essential offices and schools to close to cut commuting and save fuel.
On the seaside boulevard that served as the headquarters of the protest movement that toppled him, a small crowd gathered their remaining forces late Thursday night to celebrate his resignation.
Only a few hundred people turned out to mark the event, with many veterans of the protest movement exhausted from tear gas and tense clashes with security forces in the previous days.
“I definitely feel, I think the crowd here definitely feels very happy about this,” activist Vraye Baltaazar told the AFP news agency.
Mr. Rajapaksa, his wife Yoma and two of their bodyguards arrived in Singapore from the Maldives aboard a Saudi airline flight.
As president, Mr. Rajapaksa enjoyed immunity from arrest and it is believed he wanted to go abroad before resigning to avoid the possibility of being detained.
Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed is believed to have played a behind-the-scenes role in getting him out of the country, and said Rajapaksa feared he would be killed if he stayed.
“I believe that the President would not have resigned if he was still in Sri Lanka and was afraid of losing his life,” Nasheed wrote on Twitter.
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Mr Rajapaksa was allowed to enter the city-state on a “private visit”, adding: “He did not apply for asylum and was not granted any asylum.”
According to Sri Lankan security sources, he is expected to stay in Singapore for a while before possibly moving to the United Arab Emirates.
And the prime minister?
Mr Wickremesinghe was appointed prime minister in May in honor of Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of the outgoing president, amid widespread protests over the economic crisis.
His appointment at the time was welcomed by some because he did not belong to the ruling Rajapaksa dynasty, which had become a detested symbol of social chaos, and did not belong to the dominant parliamentary party that formed the basis of the family’s power.
This was not enough to protect him from growing anger among ordinary Sri Lankans who have flooded the streets of Colombo and stormed key government buildings in recent days, prompting the president to flee abroad.
“We are facing a crisis, we have to get out of it,” Mr. Wickremesinghe told Reuters news agency as he left the temple in Colombo’s main city shortly after being sworn in. When asked if there was a possible solution, he replied: “Absolutely.”
This decision has not yet come. Power outages, skyrocketing prices, fuel shortages and declining hard currency reserves are signs of how vulnerable Sri Lanka’s economy is.
In Colombo, demonstrators on Thursday left several symbolic government buildings they had occupied in recent days after Mr. Wickremesinghe directed security forces to restore order and declared a state of emergency.
Witnesses saw dozens of activists leave Mr. Wickremesinghe’s office as armed police and security forces entered.
A curfew was imposed in the capital, and armored personnel carriers patrolled in some areas.
Hundreds of thousands have visited the prime minister’s compound since it was opened to the public after he fled and his guards retreated.
Anti-government protesters after storming the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 13, 2022. Source: AAP, AP / Eranga Jayawardena
By Thursday afternoon, the gates were closed and there were armed guards inside and outside.
Police said a soldier and a constable were injured in clashes with protesters outside the national parliament building when security forces fought off an attempted assault on the legislative assembly building.
Protesters also fled the studios of the main state television station after they stormed in on Wednesday.
The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were hospitalized with injuries on Wednesday, with one person suffocating to death after being gassed in the prime minister’s office.
The military and police on Thursday received new orders to vigorously crack down on any violence and warned troublemakers that they were “legally authorized to use their force.”
But 26-year-old student Chirat Chaturanga Jayalat said: “You cannot stop this protest by killing people. They will shoot at our heads, but we do it from the bottom of our hearts.”