Sri Lanka’s prime minister appointed interim president as president flees the country

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a file image. – HIRANTHA WITHANAGE / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president on Wednesday, hours after leaving the country for the Maldives and just hours before he officially resigned in the face of the massive protests in recent days against the economic crisis on the island.

The president of the Sri Lankan Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardhane, has revealed that Rajapaksa’s decision is in line with Article 37.1 of the Constitution, as reported by the newspaper ‘Daily Mirror’. This article provides that in case of illness, absence from the country and other reasons that prevent him from exercising his powers, the president can appoint the prime minister to the post for this period of time.

It also stresses that «if the office of prime minister is then vacant or the prime minister is unable to act, the president may appoint the speaker of parliament to exercise these powers, duties and functions of head of state during such period.» Rajapaksa has left the country together with several family members earlier in the day and has assured that he will tender his resignation today.

Hours earlier, Wickremesinghe had declared a state of emergency throughout the country and imposed a curfew in the west of the island in the face of new protests, while security forces have used tear gas to try to disperse a group of demonstrators in the vicinity of the Prime Minister’s office. Some of them have tried to force their way into the premises, according to the British television network BBC.

Wickremesinghe has assured during the last days that he will resign once an inclusive government is formed after Rajapaksa’s resignation, although the demonstrators, who have been mobilizing for weeks to protest against the economic crisis and the worsening quality of life, have demanded the prime minister to resign as well. The interim president is expected to be elected by July 20 at the latest and pending elections, which should not be held later than March 2023.

Rajapaksa is thus stepping down after several months of protests over rising prices and shortages of food, medicine and fuel. The popular revolution that finally broke out on Saturday – with images of people breaking into luxurious official residences, including that of the president – has thus forced the definitive fall of the Rajapaksa family, after Gotabaya forced his brother Mahinda to step down as prime minister in a superfluous attempt to quell the protests.

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