Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Friday sworn in as Sri Lanka’s acting president after parliament accepted the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country, allowing the lawmakers to begin the process of electing a new president who can repair the island nation’s bankrupt economy.
Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday and then landed in Singapore on Thursday, has formally resigned, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena confirmed early on Friday, capping off a chaotic 72-hours in the crisis-hit nation that saw protesters storm many iconic buildings, including the President and the Prime Minister’s residences here.
Rajapaksa, 73, had emailed his resignation to Speaker Abeywardena who said that he accepted his resignation, which he received late on Thursday.
Rajapaksa’s departure from office marks a major victory for the anti-government protesters, who for months have demanded his removal. His resignation also ended the rule by a family that wielded power in the country for nearly 20 years.
Many in Sri Lanka blame Rajapaksa’s wrong policies for the country’s worsening situation, with runaway inflation and shortages of basic goods such as fuel and food impacting everyday life.
Rajapaksa’s resignation paves the way for the country to begin the process of electing a new president. Speaker Abeywardena has summoned a parliament session on Saturday to start the process of electing a new leader.
Speaker Abeywardena told party leaders that Parliament will meet on July 20 to elect a new president.
He said that nominations will be called for the post of President on July 19. The announcement of the vacancy in the office of President will be officially informed to Parliament on Saturday.
The new president will serve the remaining tenure of Rajapaksa till November 2024.
It will be the first time since 1978 that Sri Lanka will elect the country’s next president through a secret vote by the MPs and not through a popular mandate. The 225-member Parliament will elect the new president by a secret vote.
Sri Lanka’s ruling SLPP party on Friday decided to back Wickremesinghe in the parliamentary vote to be held on July 20, making him the front runner.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said that their support would be extended to Wickremesinghe.
Another presidential hopeful is Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, from the breakaway group of the ruling SLPP.
Soon after assuming office, acting President Wickremesinghe pledged to maintain law and order and revive the 19th Amendment to the Constitution aimed at empowering Parliament over the executive president.
Addressing Parliament, Wickremesinghe, who is also the prime minister, pledged to strictly maintain law and order in the country which has witnessed massive anti-government protests and occupation of key government buildings.
He said that the armed forces have been given the powers and the freedom to deal with any acts of violence and sabotage.
“I am one hundred per cent supportive of peaceful demonstrations. There is a difference between rioters and protesters,” the 73-year-old said.
Wickremesinghe said the true protesters would not resort to unleashing violence.
The parliamentarians who are expected to vote in the process of electing the next President would be given full protection to attend Parliament.
He said as acting President his first task would be to revive the 19th amendment to the Constitution. A draft would soon be prepared for its restoration.
The 19A adopted in 2015 pruned presidential powers by empowering Parliament above the executive president.
Wickremesinghe was the main sponsor of the 19th Amendment in 2015.
However, the 19A was scrapped after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the November 2019 presidential election.
Wickremesinghe also said a united effort of all parties was needed to tackle the current economic crisis therefore an all-party government should be formed.
Meanwhile, the news of Rajapaksa’s resignation sparked jubilant celebrations in Colombo on Thursday night, with crowds of cheering protesters lighting firecrackers.
Many of those on the streets said they were overjoyed with the news of Rajapaksa’s resignation, after months of protests and economic hardship. His exit represented a victory against government corruption and mismanagement, they said.