Sri Lanka to get new president next week amid worst crisis since independence
The island nation is embroiled in an economic and political meltdown with its parliament expected to vote for a new president on 20 July.
Sri Lanka’s parliament will elect a new president on 20 July, its speaker said on Monday, after protesters stormed the residences of the current president and prime minister, who have both offered to quit amid an economic meltdown.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had overseen a ruthless crushing of the Tamil Tigers insurgents as defence secretary, is set to resign on Wednesday.
Parliament will reconvene on Friday and will vote to elect a new president five days later, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a statement.
“During the party leaders’ meeting held today it was agreed that this was essential to ensure a new all-party government is in place in accordance with the Constitution,” the statement added.
“The ruling party has said the prime minister and the Cabinet are ready to resign to appoint an all-party government”.
President Rajapaksa to live in exile
Mr Rajapaksa fled the presidential palace in Colombo under naval protection on Saturday, shortly before tens of thousands of protesters overran the compound.
“He and his entourage were flown back to Colombo in two Bell 412 choppers,” the official added.
There was no official word from the president’s office about his whereabouts, and several local media reports speculated he was set to leave for Dubai later Monday.
But four commercial flights subsequently took off for Middle Eastern destinations without him, airport officials said.
Immigration officers were refusing to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport, while he insisted he would not go through the public facilities, they added. A humiliating stand-off for the leader once known as ‘The Terminator’.
Sri Lanka’s likely new leaders
The succession process could take between three days, which is the minimum time taken to convene parliament. A maximum of 30 days is allowed under the statute.
An SJB official said they reached a tentative agreement with dissidents in Mr Rajapaksa’s SLPP to support 55-year-old Mr Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election.
Mr Rajapaksa’s former loyalist Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, an ex-media minister, was tipped to be the new prime minister, an SJB legislator involved in the talks said.
The political instability could damage negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package, the central bank governor said.
Governor P. Nandalal Weerasinghe signalled he would stay on in the job although he had said in May he could resign if there was no political stability in the island nation of 22 million.
Over the weekend at the president’s house, protesters jumped into the swimming pool, lounged on a four-poster bed, jostled for turns on a treadmill and tried out the sofas.
Officers said they had received 17.8 million rupees (about $50,000) found by a group of protesters at the president’s residence on Saturday.
Economic meltdown and ‘total chaos’
Constitutional experts say once the president and prime minister resign, the speaker will be appointed as acting president before parliament votes in a new president to complete Mr Rajapaksa’s term that was to end in 2024.
Sri Lankans have mainly blamed Mr Rajapaksa for the collapse of the tourism-dependent economy, which was hammered badly by the COVID-19 pandemic and a ban on chemical fertilisers that damaged farm output. The ban was later reversed.
The country barely has any dollars left to import fuel, which has been severely rationed, and long lines have formed in front of shops selling cooking gas.
Headline inflation hit 54.6 per cent last month, and the central bank has warned that it could rise to 70 per cent in the coming months.
TLutz Roehmeyer of Capitulum Asset Management, which holds Sri Lanka dollar bonds, said an IMF deal could happen this year or next, but for bondholders, a restructuring was likely only in 2024 or 2025, not next year.