The delay helped him escape while still enjoying presidential immunity, but his maneuver sparked fresh protests in which one person died. His impeachment now sparks a full-scale leadership struggle.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who serves as acting president, will remain in the position, the speaker said. Parliament will meet on Saturday and will elect a new president within a week. Abeywardena asked the public to keep the peace and allow lawmakers to conduct democratic processes.
Rajapaksa’s long-awaited resignation was overshadowed by ongoing political chaos and a week of turbulence.
“Finally we win!‘ wrote one social media user on Twitter. Another commented that the country’s most feared man was now homeless. “Reduced to nothing,” the person wrote in a tweet.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left the building.
Once the most feared man in the land was fooled – now he must hide from his own constituents, fleeing in the dead of night. Reduced to nothing. He can’t go to his one child, can’t stay in the country where he was born. No home. pic.twitter.com/ZOicNgLEUH
— Dinidu de Alwis (@dinidu) July 15, 2022
On the majestic steps of the presidential office overlooking the Indian Ocean, where protesters have been camped since Saturday, some said the move was about overhauling the political system and changing a leader wasn’t enough. Their next target is Wickremesinghe, who many believe represents the same system.
The departure of Rajapaksa puts a nasty end to the legendary Rajapaksa dynasty that dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades. Many have blamed the Rajapaksa family, who until recently also held the positions of prime minister and finance minister, for the economic mismanagement that has led the country to economic collapse.
The The crisis has left Sri Lanka unable to repay its external debt and has little money to import much-needed fuel and food. There is a dangerous shortage of fuel and prices for essential items such as rice have doubled from a year ago.
The deposed president was allowed to enter Singapore for a private visit, a spokesman for Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
“He has not applied for asylum and has not been granted asylum. Singapore generally does not grant asylum applications,” the statement said. It is unclear whether Rajapaksa will stay in Singapore for an extended period of time or move to another country soon.
As the country awaited Rajapaksa’s resignation on Thursday, protesters withdrew from three major government buildings they had occupied. Dozens of people were injured in clashes with security forces, including a police officer and a soldier. The army barricaded the road leading to parliament, one of the few political landmarks the protesters had not captured.
The turmoil of the country’s leaders threatens to pull the island nation deeper into a political abyss and threatens further delays to an International Monetary Fund rescue package. Protesters and opposition leaders have criticized Wickremesinghe’s role as acting president, further complicating his challenge to take charge.
Inside the Collapse of the Rajapaksa Dynasty in Sri Lanka
The protesters’ surprise decision to withdraw from those buildings, including the residences of the president and prime minister, was seen as an attempt to ease rising tensions. They said they would remain in presidential office to symbolize what they call a popular movement.
In the colonial-era presidential residence, the police closed the large white doors of the main building as some intruders searched for one last selfie. Oshantha Dabare said protesters left voluntarily. “Our goal to impeach the president has been achieved. We are leaving in strength,” he said.
Even as the site was cleared of protest paraphernalia, a bright yellow banner scattered across a roof declared, “Burn out the government. Save the system.”
The protesters have vowed to continue pushing for political change. Their demands include an interim government that will investigate corruption charges against Rajapaksa and his powerful family, as well as assistance in obtaining food and cooking gas.
“There was an attempt yesterday to portray us as violent,” said Swasthika Arulingam, a lawyer who has been involved in the protest from the start. “We are a nonviolent movement.”
The loss of public confidence in their political leaders has shocked officials. Sri Lanka’s top uniformed official, General Shavendra Silva Sr., asked citizens to maintain order during a press conference on Wednesday evening. He was flanked by the leaders of the army, navy and air force.
“We call on all people and young people to be peaceful during this period until a new president is appointed,” he said.
Financial experts say an agreement with the IMF, which is essential for economic recovery, can only be formalized if there is stable political leadership. Negotiations have been disrupted by the recent unrest.
Manjuka Fernandopulle, a lawyer specializing in debt restructuring, said bondholders are “looking for a partner who believes in continuity, credibility, legitimacy and trust of the people”.