Sri Lankan Opposition agree to form all-party interim govt after President Rajapaksa’s resignation

Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe offered to resign after unprecedented street protests



People crowd at presidential secretariat in Colombo on July 10, 2022. Photo: AFP
People crowd at presidential secretariat in Colombo on July 10, 2022. Photo: AFP

By PTI

Published: Sun 10 Jul 2022, 8:41 PM

Sri Lanka’s Opposition parties on Sunday decided to form an all-party interim government after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to resign in the wake of unprecedented street protests.

During the upheaval both leaders’ houses were stormed by irate protesters over the government’s mishandling of the nation’s worst economic crisis. Opposition parties on Sunday held talks to seek ways to steer the country forward amidst the unprecedented economic crisis after President Rajapaksa on Saturday informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena from an undisclosed location that he will step down on Wednesday.

“We agreed in principle to form a government of unity with all parties’ participation for an interim period,” Wimal Weerawansa of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party’s breakaway group said.

“This will be a government where all parties are represented,” he said.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara, another leader of the SLPP’s breakaway group, said they need not wait for Rajapaksa’s resignation on July 13.

Rajapaksa, 73, appears to have gone underground in the face of massive public anger over the unprecedented economic crisis since the country became independent in 1948.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also offered to resign.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party said they held extensive internal discussions.

“We aim for an interim government of all parties for a limited period and then go for a parliamentary election,” said Ranjith Madduma Bandara, the SJB general secretary.

The leaders of political parties represented in Parliament are to meet on Monday afternoon to discuss the convening of the House for the transition of power for a new government after Rajapaksa said he will resign.

Speaker Abeywardena conveyed to Rajapaksa on Saturday that Opposition party leaders want him to resign after anti-government protesters stormed his offices and the official residence.

Under the Constitution, the incumbent prime minister would automatically get appointed as the acting president for a short time until Parliament votes and appoint a successor to the president.

The protesters are also demanding the resignation of prime minister Wickremesinghe. The resignation of both the president and prime minister would mean that Speaker Abeywardena would become the acting president.

Wickremesinghe has expressed willingness to resign when a new government is formed.

He stressed on Saturday that to deal with the International Monetary Fund on an assistance programme and to deal with shortages of essentials including food and fuel, it was important not to leave a vacuum.

In a statement Saturday night, Wickremesinghe said “this country is gripped with fuel and food shortages. There will be an important visit scheduled by the World Food Programme next week while crucial talks have to be continued with the IMF. So if the current government is to quit it must be replaced by the next.”

Meanwhile, the protesters who have occupied the key administration buildings since Saturday’s mass protests said they would not leave until Rajapaksa resigns.

Sri Lankans were seen roaming through the ransacked presidential palace on Sunday. There were no reports of violence unlike on Saturday.

The cash-starved island nation witnessed a tumultuous day on Saturday when protesters broke into Rajapaksa’s official residence in Colombo. The protesters were seen in the bedrooms and splashing around in the swimming pool of the President’s House.

Protesters did not spare Prime Minister Wickremesinghe despite his offer to resign and set on fire his private residence in an affluent neighbourhood in the capital.

Police on Sunday arrested three people for setting Wickremesinghe’s residence on fire, which caused extensive destruction of the property. More arrests are expected, police said.

The Criminal Investigations Department took over the investigation into the arson attack.

A video released by the Daily Mirror newspaper showed grim visuals of Wickremesinghe’s charred residence and a damaged sedan. Paintings and other artworks were strewn across the house and the compound.

The Speaker would become the acting President in the absence of both the President and the Prime Minister. Later, an election among MPs must happen to elect a new President.

Meanwhile, five Sri Lankan Cabinet ministers have announced their resignation after the massive anti-government protest.

The Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva on Sunday called on all Sri Lankans to support the armed forces and the police to maintain peace in the country.

In May, President Rajapaksa’s elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had to quit in the face of massive anti-government protests.

The Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya, were hailed by many in Sri Lanka as heroes for winning the civil war against the LTTE but they are now blamed for the country’s worst economic crisis.

The expected exit of President Rajapaksa on Wednesday and the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in May is a dramatic fall from grace for a powerful family that has dominated Sri Lankan politics for more than a decade.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials.

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

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