Sri Lanka Crisis: Rajapaksa Says he Will Resign Today, Acting President Wickremesinghe Directs Army, Police to Restore Order
Colombo: Sri Lanka's embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military jet on Wednesday, hours before he was supposed to quit in the face of a public revolt against his government for mishandling the economy that has bankrupted the country.
From the Maldives, 73-year-old Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting President, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced later on Wednesday. Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as the PM citing Article 37(1) of the Constitution that allows a premier to "discharge the powers, duties and functions of the office of president" when the president is ill or "absent" from the country.
As Acting President, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency and a curfew in the Western province after his office (Prime Minister’s office) was stormed by protesters earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Abeywardena said Rajapaksa informed him over the telephone that he will resign today as promised. The Speaker further said that the vote for the new president will take place on July 20.
In his first televised address since being appointed to the post, Wickremesinghe said he has ordered military commanders and the police chief to do what is necessary to restore order.
There was a "fascist threat" to democracy in Sri Lanka and "we can't let them tear up our Constitution," acting President Wickremesinghe told the crisis-hit nation on Wednesday, as he vowed to restore normalcy as well as stop the destruction of state property.
Wickremesinghe announced that a committee comprising the heads of armed forces have been given the responsibility to do so with zero political intervention, newsfirst.lk reported.
“The President’s Office, the President’s Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence must be returned to proper custody,” he said. “Those who are in my office want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president. We can't let them tear up our Constitution. We can’t allow fascists to take over. Some mainstream politicians too seem to be supporting these extremists. That is why I declared a nationwide emergency and a curfew,” Wickremesinghe added.
Referring to the protesters, Wickremesinghe said, “They want to stop me from being Acting President and stop me from working with the Speaker to elect a new President. They want to appoint their own candidate.” He also said the Constitution will be followed in making all decisions.
Protesters have been demanding the resignation of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to restore normalcy in the country. Wickremesinghe has also pledged that he would step down as prime minister when an all-party government is formed.
Meanwhile, the protesters who had arrived in large numbers at the PM Office surrounded the building. The police fired tear gas on protesters who broke through a barricade and stormed the prime minister's office, calling for his resignation.
Sri Lanka's state-owned television channel Rupavahini briefly suspended its telecast on Wednesday as protesters stormed the building. The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) said that its engineers suspended their live and recorded telecasts as the corporation premises were being surrounded by protesters. Later, the channel resumed its transmission.
Also, a second Sri Lankan state television channel went off air, less than an hour after Rupavahini suspended its operations.
If President Rajapaksa resigns as promised, the constitutional provisions will get activated to elect his successor, according to senior lawyer Kamal Perera.
"There will be two people who would come under immediate focus, the sitting prime minister and the speaker of parliament," lawyer Kamal Perera told PTI.
He cited Article 40 (c) of the Sri Lankan Constitution which reads "during the period between the occurrence of such vacancy and the assumption of office by the new president, the prime minister shall act in the office of the president...If the prime minister is unable to act, the Speaker shall act in the office of president."
The parliament would then proceed to fill the vacancy by an election among MPs, Perera said.
(With PTI inputs)
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