Sri Lanka on Monday was rife with speculation over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s whereabouts, and uncertainty over the island’s political future, two days after citizens mounted massive resistance against the two leaders over an unprecedented economic crisis.
President Gotabaya, who has promised to resign on July 13, was on Monday flown to an airbase near the main international airport in Katunayake, near Colombo, AFP reported. When The Hindu contacted spokespersons of the island’s Civil Aviation Authority and the Air Force, both said they were unaware of such a development.
There is no official word from the President’s office on his current location, except a statement that said all messages issued by President Gotabaya would henceforth be released by the Speaker. “Therefore, kindly request that only the announcements issued by the Speaker to be considered as official announcements issued by the President,” the Presidential Media Division said. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, who earlier told BBC that the President was in a “nearby country” and was expected to return by Wednesday, backtracked on the statement later. “I made a mistake,” he said, further fuelling rumours of the President “fleeing” the country to a Gulf capital.
Meanwhile, the Speaker convened a party leaders’ meeting for the second time since angry protesters stormed the homes and offices of the President and the PM on Saturday, in a dramatic takeover of the buildings, pushing both leaders to agree to resign. Neither has formally stepped down yet, but opposition parties have been holding talks on forming a caretaker government with all parties in it, for a short period.
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, who leads the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Power), said President Gotabaya, PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the ruling party had “lost legitimacy”. “We will form a new government with a new President & a new PM. All those who oppose this process will be responsible for the ensuing anarchy,” he said in a tweet on Monday.
“As the largest opposition party, we believe that any interim government we form must be led by Sajith Premadasa as President,” said SJB lawmaker Eran Wickramaratne.
“We are very clear that this must be an interim, short-term arrangement to address immediate economic issues. We must soon go in for elections because people must be given an opportunity to give us a mandate. Otherwise, fringe elements may try to capture the space,” he told The Hindu.
The SJB, with about 50 seats in the 225-member Parliament, is counting on “independent” MPs and dissenting members from the ruling camp to join its MPs and put forward a Prime Ministerial candidate, but political sources said they were far from an agreement on the matter. At the party leaders’ meeting on Monday, it was also decided that should President Gotabaya resign on July 13, as has been assured by him, Parliament would be summoned on July 15. A nomination for Presidency would be made on July 19 and a parliamentary vote will be held on July 20.