The president’s departure marks a major victory for protesters, who have been calling for the removal of Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for months.
Many in Sri Lanka blame Rajapaksa for the country’s deteriorating situation, with runaway inflation and shortages of basics such as fuel and food affecting daily life.
But while Rajapaksa is now out of the picture, having landed in Singapore on Thursday after an earlier flight to the Maldives via military plane, his close political ally Wickremesinghe remains firmly in place – and was sworn in as interim president on Friday.
A senior government source told CNN that Rajapaksa appeared outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore on Thursday to sign a physical resignation letter in front of the high commissioner.
The letter was then flown to Sri Lanka and delivered in person to the Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardenena, who officially announced that Rajapaksa had resigned.
The information sheds new light on the time lag of several hours between the news of Rajapaksa’s resignation, first emailed to the speaker on Thursday, and Abeywardenena’s official confirmation on Friday.
The news sparked jubilant celebrations in Colombo on Thursday night, with crowds of cheering protesters lighting firecrackers and fireworks. People from all walks of life, young and old, poured into the streets for the celebrations, which lasted late into the night.
Many on the streets said they were delighted with the news, after months of protests and economic hardship. Rajapaksa’s departure represented a victory against government corruption and mismanagement, they said.
“We had only one goal: to get rid of this absolutely corrupt regime,” said Dishan Seneviratne, 45. “I’m not a person who (usually) takes to the streets. But I came because I was afraid for my son’s future. .. (for) the next generation. We fought for it.”
But others remained nervous with Wickremesinghe – also widely unpopular and closely linked to Rajapaksa – now in office and wielding presidential power.
Some protesters have said they plan to continue demonstrating until Wickremesinghe also steps down – and both men are held responsible for the country’s alleged economic mismanagement.
“We continue to fight. We fight until (Rajapaksa) is properly charged and until action (is taken)…we fight as one nation until he receives appropriate punishment for everything he has done,” said Mariyan Malki, 29, who joined the celebrations on Thursday night.
Wickmenesinghe will remain acting president until parliament elects a new president, with lawmakers summoned to meet on Saturday to kick off the process. No date has yet been set for the vote, but under the constitution Wickremesinghe will only be allowed to hold the post for a maximum of 30 days.
Once elected, the new president will serve the remaining two years originally allocated to Rajapaksa’s term.
Friday’s announcement marks the end of a chaotic week, with the future of Sri Lanka’s leadership thrown into uncertainty after Rajapaksa fled without a formal resignation. For nearly two days, it was unclear whether he would agree to resign; what would happen if he refused to do so; and even his comings and goings sometimes. Tensions were high, with authorities imposing curfews and firing tear gas to disperse protesters.
But even with Rajapaksa officially removed from office and a new president soon chosen, bigger problems loom for the economically ravaged country as it grapples with its worst downturn in seven decades.
The financial crisis
Largely peaceful protests have intensified in Sri Lanka since March, when public anger erupted in the streets over rising food prices, fuel shortages and power cuts as the country struggled to repay his debt.
But public anger erupted last weekend when protesters occupied residences in Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksa traveled to the Maldives – where the former president has long had ties to the Rajapaksa dynasty – but left just over 24 hours later, boarding a ‘Saudi flight’ to Singapore on Thursday, a source said. high-ranking security in Colombo.
Singapore said Rajapaska was allowed to enter the country on a “private visit”, but did not seek or be granted asylum.
Shortly after his arrival, Abeywardenena, the Speaker of Parliament, announced that Rajapaksa had tendered his resignation.
But experts say questions remain about Sri Lanka’s future. On the contrary, political upheaval and lack of clarity are hurting the country’s economic recovery, said Ganeshan Wignaraja, senior research associate at UK think tank ODI Global.
“What I observe is that Sri Lanka is a messy democracy,” he said. “And against that backdrop, today’s talks in parliament have taken a bit too long. And that shows the dysfunctional political nature of our politics today.”
“This political instability can really set the economy back,” he added. “It may scare away investors, it may scare away tourists, it may scare away remittances and even aid. that Parliament pulls itself together.”
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