With embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa confirming his intention to resign as promised on Wednesday, Sri Lanka's political parties on Monday initiated steps to form an all-party government and subsequently elect a new President on July 20 to prevent the bankrupt nation sliding further into anarchy.
President Rajapaksa has officially conveyed to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will resign on July 13 as previously announced, the PM Office said on Monday, days after protesters stormed both leaders’ homes in rage over the government's mishandling of the country's worst economic crisis.
The entire Sri Lankan Cabinet will resign and hand over their responsibilities to a new all-party interim government as soon as it is formed, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s office said on Monday, as the country grappled with political and economic crises.
It said all members of the cabinet have agreed to hand over their responsibilities to a new all-party government as soon as it is formed.
"All the ministers who participated in the discussion were of the opinion that as soon as there is an agreement to form an all-party government, they are ready to hand over their responsibilities to that government,” the PM Office said.
Rajapaksa informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena from an undisclosed location on Saturday that he will resign on Wednesday after thousands of irate protesters stormed into the President’s house in Colombo's high-security Fort area, calling for him to step down.
"President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has officially informed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will be resigning as previously announced,” a statement from the PM's office said.
The Sri Lankan Parliament will elect the new president to succeed Rajapaksa on July 20, Speaker Abeywardena announced on Monday. The decision was taken during a crucial all-party leaders meeting held earlier in the day.
After receiving Rajapaksa’s resignation on Wednesday, Parliament will convene on July 15 to announce the vacancy and will reconvene on July 19 to accept the nominations for the post, Abeywardena said.
A parliamentary ballot will be held on July 20 to elect the new president, he said. Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the Speaker of parliament will serve as acting president for a maximum of 30 days.
The Parliament will elect a new president within 30 days from one of its members, who will hold the office for the remaining two years of the current term.
Meanwhile, the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) said on Monday that it is ready to lead the next government to bring stability to the bankrupt island nation as it grapples with political and economic crises and any resistance to the move in Parliament will be seen as a "treacherous act".
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has already said he was willing to resign and make way for an all-party government to take over.
Reacting publicly for the first time after his private house was set on fire by anti-government protesters on Saturday, Wickremesinghe said on Monday that only people with a "Hitler-like mindset" torch buildings and added that there was a "background event" that led to what transpired that night.
He said a miscommunication by way of a tweet by a Muslim party leader that he had objected to forming an all-party government and refused to resign had triggered the arson attack on his house.
In a special televised statement, 73-year-old Wickremesinghe said that this house was the only one he had in Sri Lanka as well as abroad, and that it has now been burnt down.
"My only house was set on fire. I had 2,500 books in my library, my only asset. There were over 200-year-old valuable paintings. All of them destroyed," he said.
President Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister in May after his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign amidst growing pressure on the government over the mismanagement of the economy.
Wickremesinghe said he accepted the post of Prime Minister as the economy was in disarray.
"The cost of living was high, no fuel, there was a foreign exchange crisis. People were losing jobs. I saw the suffering of the people," he said.
He said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that around four years would be required to stabilise the economy, the first year is the worst. “This cannot be done in 1-2 days, at least a year would be needed to take the first corrective steps. The IMF said it would take four years,” he said.
On Sunday, the Sri Lankan Army dismissed claims that it shot directly at protesters who attempted to enter the President’s residence during the weekend.
Video footage of the confrontation went viral on social media showing security forces shooting moments before protesters entered the President's House.
In a media statement, the Army categorically denied having opened fire towards the protesters, but said it fired a few rounds in the air and towards the sidewalls of the main gate entrance to the President’s House compound as a deterrent, aimed at preventing the entry of the protesters into the compound.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.
Schools have been suspended and fuel has been limited to essential services. Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring. Trains have reduced in frequency, forcing travelers to squeeze into compartments and even sit precariously on top of them as they commute to work.
In several major cities, including Colombo, hundreds are forced to stand in line for hours to buy fuel, sometimes clashing with police and the military as they wait.
The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.