Sri Lanka crisis updates | July 15, 2022

Gotabaya Rajapaksa quits, Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as acting President of Sri Lanka; Members of Parliament prepare to elect a new President through secret ballot

July 15, 2022 09:17 am | Updated 11:51 pm IST

A demonstrator sleeps at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo on July 15, 2022 after Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena officially announced the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

A demonstrator sleeps at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo on July 15, 2022 after Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena officially announced the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has officially resigned as Sri Lanka's President, the Parliamentary Speaker announced on Friday, ending days of uncertainty since the deposed leader fled the island amid monumental public protests over an economic crisis gripping the country. “I have accepted the resignation,” Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana told reporters.

Hours later, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Acting President as per the Constitution, even as members of Parliament prepare to elect a new President from among themselves through a secret ballot. “I hope to complete the process of electing a new President within seven days,” Mr. Abeywardana said. Parliament is scheduled to convene on Saturday to initiate the process.

In depth | Sri Lanka crisis

Sri Lanka urgently needs a new President and a government in place to address the worsening economic crisis that has severely disrupted supply of essentials, including fuel, food and medicines.

According to the Sri Lankan Constitution, if the office of the President falls vacant, a new President must be elected through Parliament within one month. Acting President Mr. Wickremesinghe, according to political sources, has set his sights on the country’s top office that has eluded him in his nearly-half century career in national politics, with six stints as Premier.

Significantly, the Rajapaksas’ ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) has a majority in the legislature, while Mr. Wickremesinghe is the sole member of his United National Party (UNP) in Parliament. Mr. Wickremesinghe is yet to make an official announcement on his plans, but MPs from different parties told The Hindu that frantic discussions were on to garner support for him.

Here are the latest updates

7:02 p.m.

India maintains strong ties with neighbours; country helping crisis-hit Lanka: Rajnath Singh

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Friday that India is trying to help Sri Lanka “as appropriately as possible” to deal with the unprecedented crisis that the island nation is facing.

He said that the country has maintained strong and friendly relations with all its neighbours, whether it is Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Maldives or Bangladesh, and has undertaken various endeavours to keep ties intact. - PTI

6:58 p.m.

Sri Lanka’s Parliament to elect next president through secret vote

Sri Lanka will elect the crisis-hit country’s next president through a secret vote by the MPs and not through a popular mandate, following the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was ousted by a popular uprising against him.

The 225-member Parliament will elect the new president by a secret vote on July 20, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said on Friday.

Presidential elections in 1982, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019 had elected them by popular vote.

The only previous occasion when the presidency became vacant mid-term was in 1993 when president Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated. D.B. Wijetunga was unanimously endorsed by Parliament to run the balance of Premadasa’s term. - PTI

6:22 p.m.

PCB wants Sri Lanka to retain Asia Cup hosting rights despite civil unrest

The Pakistan Cricket Board will support Sri Lanka in its bid to host the Asia Cup from August 27 despite civil and political unrest in the island nation.

Sri Lanka have managed to successfully host Australian cricket team without any security breach despite civil unrest after former president Gotabaya Rajapakse fled the country in the midst of acute financial crisis. A PCB source said that chairman Ramiz Raja had spoken to top SLC officials and assured them that Pakistan will push for the Asia Cup to remain in Sri Lanka as scheduled from August 27 to September 11. - PTI

6:16 p.m.

Sri Lanka’s ruling party lauds service rendered by former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa

The ruling party of crisis-hit Sri Lanka on Friday lauded former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the services he rendered to the nation and highlighted his decisive role in bringing peace to the motherland by ending 30 years of terrible terrorism.

In a statement on the resignation of Rajapaksa, who resigned hours after landing in Singapore on a “private visit”, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) said that political leaders in the world of politics mostly attempted to take political power, and relinquishing power and positions was a very rare sight in the world of politics. - PTI

6:11 p.m.

Sri Lankan president’s resignation accepted

The resignation of Sri Lanka’s president has been accepted, the crisis-hit country’s parliamentary speaker announced Friday after the leader fled his country earlier this week, prompting relief among protesters camped outside his former offices.

The formal declaration makes Gotabaya Rajapaksa – once known as “The Terminator” for his ruthless crushing of the Tamil rebellion – the first Sri Lankan head of state to resign since it adopted an executive presidency in 1978. - AFP

5:44 p.m.

Cricket continues in Sri Lanka despite economic crisis

The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has brought the country to a standstill. There’s a shortage of essential items like fuel, medicine and food. The president has resigned.

Despite the hardships, cricket goes on uninterrupted. The first test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka gets underway in Galle on Saturday. Last weekend, as Australia played the second test in Galle, protesters outside the stadium called for the ouster of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. An even bigger protest took place in the capital Colombo, less than one kilometer from the hotel where Pakistan’s team was staying.

No protester or political party objected to cricket being played while the country was burning. Everyone knows that cricket is essential for a country that is in severe shortage of foreign exchange. The Australian tour brought an estimated $2 million to Sri Lanka Cricket. The tourism industry also benefited with hundreds of Australian fans turning up for the matches that ended in 1-1 draw. - AP

5:38 p.m.

Sri Lanka’s ruling SLPP to support Wickremesinghe in parliamentary vote to elect Rajapaksa’s successor

Sri Lanka’s ruling SLPP party on Friday decided to back interim president Ranil Wickremesinghe in the parliamentary vote to be held next week to elect the successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned after unprecedented protests against his government.

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said that their support would be extended to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who was on Friday sworn in as the interim president until Parliament elects a successor to Rajapaksa. - PTI

5:22 p.m.

Sri Lanka court bars former prime minister from leaving the country - anti-corruption group

Sri Lanka’s top court on Friday barred former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa from leaving the country without permission until July 28, anti-corruption group Transparency International Sri Lanka said.

Three other former officials, including two former central bank governors, also cannot travel outside the country without the court’s permission till July 28, the group said in a tweet. -Reuters

3:31 p.m.

Wickremesinghe decides to prohibit use of ‘His Excellency’ to address President, abolish presidential flag

Sri Lanka’s interim President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday decided to prohibit the use of the word ‘His Excellency’ to address the President and abolished the presidential flag, as he underlined his commitment to protecting democracy and the Constitution of the crisis-hit country.

“Rather than protecting individuals, protect the country,” Mr. Wickremesinghe, who is also the Prime Minister, said after he was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s acting president until Parliament elects a successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned after protests against his government for mishandling the economy that bankrupted the country.

He said as the acting President he decided to prohibit the use of the word ‘His Excellency’ when addressing the President. -PTI

2:13 p.m.

Sri Lanka acting President says will stick to constitutional process, establish law and order

Sri Lanka’s newly appointed acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Friday that he would follow constitutional process and establish law and order in the country.

Mr. Wickremesinghe, who was appointed acting President after Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned from his post on Thursday, asked lawmakers to work towards a consensus to establish an all-party government in the crisis-ridden country. -Reuters

1:10 p.m.

IMF wants stability in Sri Lanka to resume talks on bailout deal

The IMF on Friday said that it is deeply concerned about the current crisis in Sri Lanka and hopes for a resolution of the current situation to resume talks as soon as possible on a bailout package for the island nation.

“We hope for a resolution of the current situation that would allow for our resumption of a dialogue on an IMF-supported programme,” Gerry Rice, the Director of the Communications Department of the IMF, was quoted as saying by News First Lanka.

“The high-level discussions with the authorities that we would need to begin discussions on a programme, we hope again, that these would be able to resume as soon as possible. So, you know, looking to do all we can in just an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he added, Sri Lanka’s public debt is assessed as unsustainable and as is the case with every IMF programme, not just the case of Sri Lanka, for approval by the Board, he noted.

“And we are not at that stage, but for approval by the Board, a programme would require adequate assurances on debt sustainability. So, that’s what I have on this, you know, a situation that’s of great concern in Sri Lanka,” said Mr. Rice. - PTI

12:45 p.m.

Wickremesinghe becomes interim Sri Lankan president

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Ranil Wickremesinghe | Photo Credit: AP

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s interim president Friday until Parliament elects a successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned after mass protests over the country’s economic collapse forced him from office.

Wickremesinghe was acting president since Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday. - AP

11:45 a.m.

Sri Lankans welcome Gotabaya’s resignation

People who were gathering Friday at the main protest site in front of the president’s office in Colombo welcomed the news of Rajapaksa’s resignation but insisted that Wickremesinghe also should step aside.

“I am happy that Gotabaya has finally left. He should have resigned earlier, without causing much problems,” Velauynatha Pillai, 73, a retired bank employee, said as patriotic songs were blaring from loudspeakers.

But he added that “Ranil is a supporter of Gotabaya and other Rajapaksas. He was helping them. He also must go.” - AP

10:40 a.m.

Sri Lankan Parliament to convene Saturday to choose new President

Sri Lanka’s Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said Friday that Parliament will convene to choose a new President after the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Parliament will convene Saturday to start the process of electing a new president, he said. He expects to compete the process within seven days.

Their new choice as president will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. - AP

10:15 a.m.

Video of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywarden confirming Gotabaya’s resignation

“Yes, resignation has been accepted, legal process will follow... Members will be invited tomorrow (to elect a President):” Sri Lanka Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywarden confirms President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation

10:00 a.m.

ALSO READ: Modi government distances itself from Rajapaksas in latest twist to see-saw relationship

Distancing itself from the Rajapaksa family that has been pushed out of power by angry protestors in Sri Lanka, the government made it clear that it has not offered outgoing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his brother and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, and others who may wish to flee Sri Lanka, any support. New Delhi is watching the situation in Colombo closely, even as efforts get underway for the Sri Lanka Parliament to elect the next President next week.

The Indian High Commission said it “categorically denies baseless and speculative media reports that India facilitated the recent reported travel” of Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mr. Basil Rajapaksa. - Suhasini Haidar

9:40 a.m.

Speaker confirms President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has officially resigned, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced Friday morning, ending days of uncertainty since the widely despised leader fled the island, dislodged by monumental public protests over a grave economic crisis. 

Mr. Gotabaya, currently in Singapore, had sent his resignation letter by email on Thursday, but the Speaker’s office said its authenticity and legality had to be verified before it could be accepted.

8:45 a.m.

Festive mood in Colombo as Gotabaya resigns

As word of the resignation spread, jubilant crowds gathered near the president’s office to celebrate. Dozens of people danced and cheered and waved the Sri Lankan flag, and two men sang in Sinhalese on a small stage.

The mood was festive, with people hooting and swaying to music while others chanted into a microphone that they wanted better governance.

“To be validated like this is massive,” said Viraga Perera, an engineer who has been protesting since April. “On a global scale, we have led a movement that toppled a president with minimal force and violence. It’s a mix of victory and relief.” - AP

July 14

EDITORIAL: On the decline and fall of Gotabaya Rajapaksa

The world has been amazed by the unprecedented display of righteous anger and courage by the citizens of Sri Lanka, as they channelled the widespread fury against the devastation caused by the economic crisis on their day-to-day existence. As civil society came together, it is apt to see this as a revolutionary moment in which an avaricious and apathetic political class has been humbled by people united by suffering.

While external observers see this as a moment of truth for authoritarian leaders, power-hungry politicians and their ilk, it remains to be seen if political leaders in Sri Lanka themselves have drawn any lesson from it.

July 14

Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Singapore, sends in his resignation

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.

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.

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. - Meera Srinivasan

July 14

China waits and watches on Sri Lanka crisis

China on Thursday declined to say whether it was considering financial assistance to Sri Lanka, continuing a studied silence over the unfolding crisis and what analysts called a “wait and watch” approach.

“As a friendly neighbour and cooperation partner, China sincerely hopes all sectors in Sri Lanka can bear in mind the fundamental interests of the country and people and overcome difficulties to restore stability, revitalise the economy and improve livelihoods, at an early date,” Chinse Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Thursday.

In response to a question from The Hindu on whether China was considering responding to Sri Lankan requests for financial aid and if talks were ongoing, Mr. Wang declined to say if Beijing was preparing assistance. “China is ready to work with relevant countries and relevant institutions to help Sri Lanka achieve sustainable development and overcome the current difficulties,” he said. - Ananth Krishnan

July 14

A timeline of events until July 13

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