Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is sworn in as Sri Lanka’s interim president until parliament elects a successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned after mass protests over the country’s economic collapse left him forced out of office.
- Ranil Wickremesinghe says he will take steps to limit presidential powers and strengthen parliament
- He says he will also restore law and order and prosecute ‘insurgents’
- The process of electing a new president and prime minister for the country could take around seven days
Sri Lanka’s speaker of parliament said Mr Rajapaksa resigned as speaker on Thursday and politicians would meet on Saturday to choose a new leader.
Their choice would serve the remainder of Mr Rajapaksa’s term ending in 2024, President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said.
He expects the process to be completed in seven days.
Mr. Wickremesinghe will lead the country in the meantime.
The next president could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by parliament.
With Mr. Rajapaksa expelled, the pressure on Mr. Wickremesinghe was increasing.
In a televised statement on Friday, Mr Wickremesinghe said that in the short term he would take steps to amend the constitution to reduce presidential powers and strengthen parliament.
He also said he would restore law and order and take legal action against the “insurgents”.
Referring to clashes near Parliament on Wednesday evening, in which many soldiers were reportedly injured, Mr Wickremesinghe said the real protesters would not be involved in such actions.
“There is a big difference between protesters and insurgents. We will take legal action against the insurgents,” he said.
Opponents had seen his appointment as prime minister in May as a relief from pressure on Mr Rajapaksa to step down.
He became interim president when Mr Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Mr Rajapaksa arrived in Singapore on Thursday and his resignation became official the same day.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Mr Wickremesinghe was sworn in as interim president on Friday before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.
‘Ranil, he too must go’
Sri Lanka is running out of money to pay for imports of basic necessities such as food, fertilizer, medicine and fuel, to the despair of its 22 million people.
Its rapid economic decline was all the more shocking because before this crisis, the economy was booming, with a growing and comfortable middle class.
After Mr Rajapaksa resigned, protesters prepared and distributed rice pudding – a food Sri Lankans enjoy to celebrate victories.
At the main protest site outside Mr Rajapaksa’s office in Colombo, people hailed his resignation but insisted that Mr Wickremesinghe step down as well.
“I am happy that Gotabaya is finally gone. He should have resigned earlier, without causing too much trouble,” said Velauynatha Pillai, 73, a retired bank worker, as patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers.
But he added: “Ranil is a supporter of Gotabaya and other Rajapaksas. He was helping them. He too must go. »
President appeals for calm
Protesters who had occupied government buildings withdrew on Thursday, restoring an uneasy calm to the capital, Colombo.
But with the political opposition in parliament fractured, a solution to Sri Lanka’s many woes seemed no closer.
The nation is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund and other creditors, but its finances are so bad that even securing a bailout has proven difficult, Wickremesinghe said recently.
The country remains a powder keg and the military warned on Thursday that it had the power to react in the event of chaos – a message that some found concerning.
Mr. Abeywardana promised a quick and transparent process for the election of a new president.
“I call on the honorable and loving citizens of this country to create a peaceful atmosphere in order to implement the proper parliamentary democratic process and to allow all parliamentarians to participate in meetings and to function freely and conscientiously,” he said. said Friday.
“Rajapaksas has ruined the dreams of young people”
Protesters accuse Mr Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers for years and hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy.
The family denied allegations of corruption, but Mr Rajapaksa admitted that some of his policies had contributed to the collapse of Sri Lanka.
Maduka Iroshan, 26, a university student and protester, said he was “delighted” that Mr Rajapaksa quit because he “ruined the dreams of the younger generation”.
Months of protests reached a frenzied peak over the weekend when protesters stormed the former president’s home and office and the official residence of Mr Wickremesinghe. On Wednesday, they seized his office.
Images of protesters inside the buildings – lying on sleek couches and beds, posing outside officials’ desks and touring the lavish venues – captured the world’s attention.
Protesters initially vowed to stay until a new government is in place, but changed tack on Thursday, apparently worried that an escalation in violence could undermine their message following clashes outside parliament which injured dozens.
“The fear was that there was a crack in the confidence they held for the struggle,” said Nuzly, a one-name protest leader.
“We have shown what people power can do, but that doesn’t mean we have to occupy these places. »
The closing of the presidential palace gate after the crowd left was bittersweet, said Visaka Jayaweer, an entertainer.
“Returning to his residency was a great moment. It showed how much we wanted him to quit. But it is also a great relief. [to leave]” she says.
“We were worried if people were taking action.
Escaped into the night
Mr. Rajapaksa and his wife slipped away overnight on a military plane early Wednesday.
On Thursday, he traveled to Singapore, according to the city-state’s foreign ministry.
He said he did not apply for asylum.
Since Sri Lankan Presidents are protected from arrest while in office. Mr Rajapaksa probably wanted to leave while he still enjoyed constitutional immunity and had access to the plane.
The protests underscored the dramatic downfall of the Rajapaksa political clan that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a military strategist whose brutal campaign helped end the country’s 26-year civil war, and his brother, who was president at the time, were hailed by the island’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority .
Despite accusations of wartime atrocities, including ordering military attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and abducting journalists, Mr. Rajapaksa remained popular with many Sri Lankans.
He has always denied the allegations.
It was not immediately clear whether Singapore would be Mr Rajapaksa’s final destination, but he has already sought medical treatment there, including heart surgery.