Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s interim president on Friday after parliament accepted the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country, allowing lawmakers to begin the process of electing a new president who can fix the island nation’s bankrupt economy.
Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday and then landed in Singapore on Thursday, has officially resigned, President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena confirmed early Friday, capping a chaotic 72 hours in the troubled country that has seen protesters storming from many iconic buildings. , including the President’s and Prime Minister’s residences here.
Rajapaksa, 73, had emailed his resignation to President Abeywardena who said he accepted his resignation, which he received on Thursday evening.
Rajapaksa’s departure from office marks a major victory for anti-government protesters, who have been calling for his removal for months. His resignation also ended the rule of a family that has held power in the country for nearly 20 years.
Many in Sri Lanka blame Rajapaksa’s poor policies for the country’s deteriorating situation, with runaway inflation and shortages of basics such as fuel and food affecting daily life.
Rajapaksa’s resignation paves the way for the country to begin the process of electing a new president. President Abeywardena called a parliamentary session on Saturday to launch the process of electing a new leader.
President Abeywardena told party leaders that parliament would meet on July 20 to elect a new president.
He said nominations will be called for the chair on July 19. The announcement of the vacancy for the post of president will be officially communicated to Parliament on Saturday.
The new president will serve Rajapaksa’s remaining term until November 2024.
It will be the first time since 1978 that Sri Lanka will elect the country’s next president by secret ballot of MPs and not by popular mandate. The 225-member parliament will elect the new president by secret ballot.
On Friday, Sri Lanka’s ruling SLPP party decided to back Wickremesinghe in the parliamentary vote to be held on July 20, making him the favourite.
Sri Lanka Podjana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said their support would be extended to Wickremesinghe.
Another presidential hopeful is Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, of the ruling SLPP splinter group.
Shortly after taking office, Acting President Wickremesinghe pledged to maintain law and order and revive the 19th Amendment to the Constitution aimed at giving parliament the power to override the executive president.
Addressing parliament, Wickremesinghe, who is also prime minister, pledged to strictly maintain public order in the country which has witnessed massive anti-government protests and the occupation of key government buildings.
He said the armed forces have been given the powers and freedom to deal with any act of violence and sabotage.
“I’m one hundred percent behind peaceful protest. There’s a difference between rioters and protesters,” the 73-year-old said.
Wickremesinghe said genuine protesters would not resort to violence.
Parliamentarians who are expected to vote in the process of electing the next president would be fully protected to attend parliament.
He said that as interim president, his first task would be to revive the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. A project would soon be prepared for its restoration.
19A passed in 2015 reduced presidential powers by giving Parliament power above the executive president.
Wickremesinghe was the main sponsor of the 19th Amendment in 2015.
However, 19A was dropped after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the November 2019 presidential election.
Wickremesinghe also said that a united effort from all parties is needed to deal with the current economic crisis, therefore, a multi-party government should be formed.
Meanwhile, news of Rajapaksa’s resignation sparked jubilant celebrations in Colombo on Thursday night, with crowds of cheering protesters lighting firecrackers.
Many on the streets said they were delighted to hear of Rajapaksa’s resignation, after months of protests and economic hardship. His departure represented a victory against government corruption and mismanagement, they said.
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