Sri Lanka’s parliament began meeting on Saturday to begin the process of electing a new president, as a shipment of fuel arrived to provide some relief to the crisis-hit nation.
The resignation of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was accepted by parliament on Friday, after he fled to Singapore via the Maldives to escape anti-government protesters who had occupied his official residence and offices.
More than 100 police and security personnel with assault rifles were deployed on the approach road to parliament on Saturday, manning barricades and a water cannon to prevent any unrest. Columns of security forces patrolled another approach road to parliament, though there were no signs of any protesters.
Legislators are scheduled to elect a new president within a week, with six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, an ally of the Rajapaksas who is the sole representative of his party in parliament, sworn in as acting president until then. Parliament’s speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, promised a swift and transparent political process.
Parliament’s secretary general, Dhammika Dasanayake, said during a brief session on Saturday that nominations for the election of the new president would be heard on Tuesday and if there was more than one candidate, the lawmakers would vote on Wednesday.
Dasanayake also read Gotabaya’s resignation letter out loud in parliament.
In the letter, Rajapaksa says he was stepping down following requests by the people of Sri Lanka and political party leaders. He notes that the economic crisis was looming even when he took office in 2019 and was aggravated by frequent lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wickremesinghe, who protesters want gone too, was selected as the ruling party’s candidate for president on Friday, leading to the prospect of further unrest should he be elected.
The opposition’s presidential nominee is Sajith Premadasa, while the potential dark horse is senior ruling party legislator Dullas Alahapperuma.
Street protests over Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown simmered for months before boiling over a week ago, when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the Rajapaksa family and allies for runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.
Days-long fuel queues have become the norm in the island nation of 22 million, while foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to close to zero and headline inflation hit 54.6% last month.
Sri Lanka received the first of three fuel shipments on Saturday, said the energy minister, Kanchana Wijesekera said. These were the first shipments to reach the country in about three weeks.
A second diesel consignment would also arrive on Saturday, with a shipment of petrol due by Tuesday.
“Payments completed for all 3,” the minister said in a tweet.
July 16, 2022 at 12:24PM Reuters in Colombo