Sri Lanka to elect new president on July 20, Wickremesinghe takes interim charge

Parliament speaker accepts Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation, process to choose successor to begin Saturday.

Sri Lanka to elect new president on July 20, Wickremesinghe takes interim charge

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s interim president on Friday, while the Parliament will elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s full-time successor on July 20.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene accepted Rajapaksa’s resignation, which he sent late on Thursday after fleeing the country amid mass protests over a crippling economic crisis.

Lawmakers will convene on Saturday to kick off the process of electing a new leader, with candidates to be finalized on July 19, according to a Parliament statement.

Abeywardene said he expects all parties to support the process and ensure it is done “without any hindrance within the democratic framework.”

In a televised statement, Wickremesinghe said he will initiate steps to strengthen Parliament and curb sweeping presidential powers.

He urged all stakeholders to reach “an agreement to form an all-party government,” according to a report by Sri Lankan newspaper Daily Mirror.

“It’s time to forget political aspirations of individuals. There should be a country for us to engage in politics … I invite all political parties to be a part of the process of rebuilding the nation,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said he fully supports citizens’ right to peaceful protest, but vowed to take action against “insurgents trying to create unrest.”

Rajapaksa fled to Singapore from the Maldives on Thursday, having left Sri Lanka in the grip of economic chaos as months of nationwide mass protests called for his ouster.

He escaped from Sri Lanka after thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in the capital Colombo and set fire to the prime minister’s home.

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said Rajapaksa was on “private visit” and “has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum.”

The Maldives said it allowed a Sri Lanka Air Force plane carrying Rajapaksa and his spouse to land on Wednesday following an official request from the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lankans blame the Rajapaksa political dynasty for the crisis. Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister in May.

Crippled by a shortage of foreign exchange reserves after the collapse of its tourism-dependent economy, the island nation of 22 million people has defaulted on all of its foreign debt.

It has been unable to pay for food, fuel and other essentials, with the fuel shortage in turn leading to prolonged daily power cuts. Schools have been closed and state employees asked to work from home.

The government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package, but no deal has been finalized so far.

Hüseyin Demir