Live Updates: Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa Flees to the Maldives

Source: : 2022-07-13 03:08:27 : The New York Times

Credit…Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka fled the country on Wednesday, according to four officials, after months of demonstrations demanding that he leave office culminated with protesters storming his official residence in Colombo, the capital.

Mr. Rajapaksa left on an Air Force plane to the Maldives at about 2 a.m. local time, said Colonel Nalin Herath, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s defense ministry. Three immigration officials, who declined to be named given the political situation, confirmed his departure as well.

The island nation is experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history, exacerbated by government mismanagement and missteps. Protests over a severe shortage of food, medicine and fuel have lasted for months. Mr. Rajapaksa went into hiding after protesters took over his office and residence on Saturday and told allies he was resigning.

The country’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, had on Saturday suggested he would also step down, but he appeared to be staying on. Protesters had been demanding his resignation as well.

As Mr. Rajapaksa’s departure from the country was confirmed, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the speaker of the parliament, said in a phone interview that he still had not received the president’s letter of resignation, which would make the end of his presidency official.

Mr. Rajapaksa, 73, a career military officer, would be the last member of his family’s dynasty to leave government. In May, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister and the president’s elder brother, was forced from office by protests. The finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, another brother, and several other members of the family were also removed from their posts.

The fuel shortage has upended daily life in Sri Lanka for months, with the prime minister declaring the country essentially bankrupt and out of foreign-currency reserves for essential imports. The prices of food and medicine have soared, power cuts have become the norm and public transportation is often suspended to shore up fuel supplies.

The transition to a new government now puts the spotlight on a parliament that has long frustrated the island nation of 22 million, with lawmakers and political parties engaging in protracted and messy fights over positions of power. Complicating matters, the ruling party loyal to the Rajapaksas still maintain a majority of the seats.

Sri Lanka’s constitution is clear on succession. In the event of that a president resigns, the prime minister takes on his duties in an interim capacity. The proceedings then turn to Parliament, where lawmakers vote for a new president from their midst to complete the term. Mr. Rajapaksa’s term had two years to go.

As protesters took over Colombo this week, even the basics of a transition have been uncertain, because Mr. Wickremesinghe also said he would resign after protesters stormed his offices and forced him into hiding.

But since Mr. Wickremesinghe has not officially gone through with his resignation, he will most likely become acting president. Opposition lawmakers said the parliament would then convene on Friday, which will open the process for electing a new president which, technically, could be completed in a matter of a week.

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