Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has officially resigned, the parliamentary speaker confirmed, after a dramatic week which saw the beleaguered leader flee the country after his presidential palace and offices were stormed by protesters.
The formal announcement of Rajapaksa’s resignation was made in a televised address by the speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, on Friday morning.
Rajapaksa is currently in Singapore, where he fled to on Wednesday, via the Maldives. His resignation letter was sent late on Thursday night, first via email and then the original dispatched on a diplomatic flight, but the formal announcement was delayed until Friday while the speakers’ office verified the letter.
Rajapaksa’s decision to flee without resigning had left Sri Lanka in a state of political limbo for more than 36 hours, and tensions had run high in the country, which remained in a state of emergency.
Abeywardena confirmed that, according to the constitution, the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, would be sworn in as an interim president on Friday and will hold the role until a new vote is held by MPs in parliament next week. The process of voting in and confirming a new president is likely to take seven days, said the speaker.
Abeywardena requested that all political party leaders “extend their support” for a smooth selection of a new president, and to “uphold democracy” during the transiiton.
Parliament will now reconvene on Saturday, to begin the process of installing a new all-party “unity” government, made up of a multitude of political parties. The opposition parties said they would meet this morning and put forward a new name for prime minister, likely to be Sajith Premadasa, leader of the largest opposition party.
The fall of Rajapaksa as president follows months of sustained protests calling for him to step down. He had ruled alongside six members of his politically-powerful family, including his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa who was prime minister and his brother Basil Rajapaksa who was finance minister. But while all his family members had been forced to resign in recent months due to public pressure, the president had clung on to power, much to the anger of protesters on the streets.
Many people hold Rajapaksa responsible for driving Sri Lanka into its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, which has led to severe shortages of fuel, food and medicines. Along with several members of his powerful family who held political posts, he is accused of economic mismanagement and widespread corruption.
Rajapaksa has not directly addressed the people of Sri Lanka since he was evacuated from his home on Saturday morning before hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Colombo to demand he step down.
He had promised to hand over power on 13 July to ensure a “peaceful transition of power” but the deadline had passed by without any sign of his resignation letter. Rajapaksa has immunity from arrest while he is president and many believed he was looking for a safe haven country before he relinquished power, in order to protect himself from prosecution from longstanding accusations of war crimes and corruption.
The Singapore government confirmed that Rajapaksa had not sought asylum in their country. His final destination remains unknown.
July 15, 2022 at 10:28AM Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Colombo