Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Singapore, sends in his resignation

Official announcement on July 15 after verifying authenticity of emailed document

July 14, 2022 11:34 pm | Updated July 15, 2022 09:45 am IST - COLOMBO

People in Colombo celebrate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation.

People in Colombo celebrate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday sent his resignation letter by email from Singapore, the Parliamentary Speaker’s office said, deferring an official announcement to Friday in order to verify the “authenticity and legality” of the document.

The development came a day after Mr. Gotabaya, who rose to power in 2019 on a thumping election win, fled the country and sought refuge on two other islands, as mass anti-government protests rapidly escalated last weekend. Early on Wednesday, he was flown to the Maldives by a Sri Lankan military aircraft. He reached Singapore on Thursday evening, the country’s Foreign Ministry confirmed.

Mr. Gotabaya was allowed entry into Singapore “on a private visit”, the city-state’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum,” the Ministry said.

Parliament will not be convened on Friday as was announced, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s office said, owing to the delay in the receipt of the President’s resignation letter.

Once accepted, Mr. Gotabaya’s resignation would signal a resounding victory to the citizen’s protests spanning months, demanding “Gota go home”, taking responsibility for the country’s worst economic downturn since Independence in 1948. The powerful leader was forced to flee and quit, after enraged protesters stormed his office and home on Saturday, as a deepening crisis left citizens scrambling for essentials, amid acute shortages and hyperinflation.

For nearly 100 days, demonstrators have camped out in a tent city adjacent to the Presidential Secretariat, located along Colombo’s seafront Galle Face. They braved extreme weather, crippling fuel scarcity, and violence unleashed by ruling party supporters on May 9.

Mr. Gotabaya will be the last of the Rajapaksas to resign from office, following his brothers, including former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who stepped down earlier in the wake of raging opposition to the ruling clan.

The unprecedented resistance to the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka’s most formidable political brand for over 15 years, has decisively eliminated the first family from political prominence for the near future. Now, demonstrators continue calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed Acting President on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Maldivian Speaker and ex-President Mohamed Nasheed announced Mr. Gotabaya’s resignation on Twitter, minutes before the Sri Lankan Speaker announced receiving the letter. Maldivian media earlier reported that Mr. Nasheed had received Mr. Gotabaya at the airport and held talks before his departure, even as protesters in Male asked its government not to “safeguard criminals”.

“President GR has resigned. I hope Sri Lanka can now move forward. I believe the President would not have resigned if he were still in Sri Lanka, and fearful of losing his life. I commend the thoughtful actions of the Govt of Maldives. My best wishes to the people of Sri Lanka,” Mr. Nasheed said in a tweet.

Opposition slams delay

Sri Lanka’s political opposition slammed the delay in the President’s resignation. “If it is indeed true, I am amazed at the irony of what has happened,” said Opposition lawmaker and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem. “Someone who came to power on a platform of national security has fled the country for his own security, fearing his own people. This fate would not have befallen him if he had had the foresight to quit at the right time. He has disgraced himself, and brought disgrace upon the whole nation,” he told The Hindu.

Further, it was “distressing” that Mr. Gotabaya handed the reins to “another person despised by the people,” Mr. Hakeem said, referring to Mr. Wickremesinghe. “He is oblivious to ground realities… he too will be disgraced in the immediate future.”

Colombo legislator and Tamil Progressive Alliance Leader Mano Ganesan said the Speaker must “immediately act” on the President’s letter and set off the constitutional process to elect a new President. “The Speaker repeatedly told us [party leaders] over the last five days that he was yet to receive the President’s letter. Now that it has come, he should verify it and produce it at the party leaders’ meeting tomorrow [July 15], so that we can take the next steps swiftly,” he told The Hindu.

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