Sri Lankan politics were in turmoil as opposition parties worked to form an interim government, despite confusion over the whereabouts of the president, who hasn’t yet personally confirmed that he will step down to make way for new leadership.
Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker said over the weekend that President
had agreed to resign on Wednesday. Prime Minister
who has publicly committed to resigning, said the president had informed him that he will be stepping down as previously announced, the prime minister’s office said Monday morning.
The president’s location is unknown, and it is even unclear whether he has remained in Sri Lanka. Mr. Rajapaksa last tweeted on Friday to express condolences over the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his last public meeting was with Canada’s high commissioner the day before.
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena,
told the BBC that the president had left Sri Lanka and was “in a nearby country” but would be back by Wednesday.
But Mr. Abeywardena told the Journal on Monday that he had made a mistake in the BBC interview, which he said was conducted Sunday evening. He said the president was still in Colombo and had never left the country, and that he was unwell and required medical treatment.
“I thought that he told me that he would be leaving for one day for medical treatment, and I thought he had gone there,” he said. “Today morning only I came to know that he has not left.”
Mr. Abeywardena, a longtime Rajapaksa ally, said he didn’t know what medical treatment Mr. Rajapaksa required, or where he had intended to go. He reiterated that he expected Mr. Rajapaksa to be in Colombo on Wednesday to formally resign.
Earlier on Monday, the president’s office said the president would release messages only through Mr. Abeywardena.
The political tumult comes after months of demonstrations over the government’s mishandling of the economy came to a head on Saturday as thousands of protesters in the capital Colombo surged past police lines to storm and occupy the president’s residence and office, as well as the prime minister’s residence, where they said they would remain until the two leaders formally resigned.
In recent years, Sri Lanka accumulated debt for infrastructure projects, while sweeping tax cuts also slashed government revenue. Then came the pandemic, which decimated foreign-currency earnings. This year, with foreign reserves dwindling to near zero, the country struggled to secure vital imports, such as fuel and medicines, and defaulted in May.
Sri Lanka’s opposition parties are negotiating over the formation of an interim government that will fill the breach once Messrs. Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe formally step down. At a meeting Saturday, party leaders decided that the speaker would take the role of acting president before parliament votes for a new president. That vote will take place on July 20, the speaker said Monday. The new president will then appoint a prime minister, and fresh elections will be held at a date yet to be decided.
one likely contender for president as the leader of the main opposition, said his Samagi Jana Balawegaya party was ready to lead and that any parliamentarians seeking to scuttle the formation of a new government would be betraying the country.
Protesters continued to occupy the president’s palace in Sri Lanka, enjoying the compound’s pool and working out in the gym. Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa intends to step down after his residence was stormed on Saturday. Photo: Chamila Karunarathne/ EPA-EFE via Shutterstock
“The mandate of the president, prime minister, and SLPP government is over now,” Mr. Premadasa said in a video address, referring to Mr. Rajapaksa’s ruling party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. “We as opposition are ready to lead, to stabilize the country and rebuild the economy.”
Sri Lanka has been in talks with the International Monetary Fund for financial relief. In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Central Bank Gov.
P. Nandalal Weerasinghe,
appointed in April, expressed concern that political instability could delay these efforts, which he said have been making progress.
The radio silence from the president, and his declared intention to resign on Wednesday rather than immediately, has fueled political uncertainty and anxiety among the protesting public, who have seen Mr. Rajapaksa and his powerful family hold a firm grip over Sri Lankan politics for much of the past two decades. Defense officials debunked online rumors of large numbers of troops heading to protest sites on Sunday night.
Soldiers were visible around the capital on Monday, but merely looked on from a distance as crowds continued to mill around Mr. Rajapaksa’s residence, cooling off in the swimming pool, watching television and lounging on chairs and beds.
Political analysts said Mr. Rajapaksa’s stalling could be designed to buy time in a rear guard attempt to preserve as much power for him and his party as the new all-party government is formed. But the overwhelming sense of public rejection and anger meant he was merely delaying the inevitable, said
Nishan de Mel,
executive director of Verité Research, a Colombo-based think tank.
“The longer this period lasts, the more unstable it becomes, so it’s important that this particular period is ended quickly,” Mr. de Mel said.
Write to Philip Wen at firstname.lastname@example.org
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