Sri Lankans celebrate President Rajapaksa’s resignation, but bigger problems are brewing

The departure of the president marks a major victory for the protesters, who have been demanding the removal of Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for months.

Many in Sri Lanka blame Rajapaksa for the country’s deteriorating situation, rampant inflation and shortages of basic commodities such as fuel and food, which affect daily life.

But while Rajapaksa has now fallen out of the picture, landing in Singapore on Thursday after escaping to the Maldives in a military plane, his close political ally Wickremesinghe remains in place and was sworn in as acting president on Friday.

The news of Rajapaksa’s resignation, first emailed to the speaker, sparked celebrations in Colombo on Thursday evening as crowds of cheering protesters lit fireworks and fireworks. People from all walks of life, young and old, took to the streets for a celebration that lasted until late at night.

Many on the streets said they were delighted with the news after months of protests and economic hardship. According to them, the resignation of Rajapaksa was a victory over corruption and mismanagement in the government.

“We had one goal – to get rid of this absolutely corrupt regime,” said Dishan Seneviratne, 45. I’m not the type of person who (usually) goes out. But I came because I was afraid for the future of my son. .. (for) the next generation. We fought for it.”

But others have remained tense that Wickremesinghe – also widely unpopular and closely associated with Rajapaksa – now holds the presidency.

Some protesters have said they plan to continue demonstrating until Wickremesinghe also resigns – and both men are responsible for the country’s alleged mismanagement.

“We keep fighting. We fight until (Rajapaksha) is properly blamed and until some action is taken… we fight as one nation until he receives proper punishment for everything he has done,” said Marian Malki. 29 people who joined the Thursday night celebration.

Wickmenesinghe will remain acting president until parliament elects a new president and lawmakers meet on Saturday to begin the process. A date for the vote has yet to be set, but according to the constitution, Wickremesinghe will be allowed a maximum of 30 days in office.

Once elected, the new president will serve the remaining two years originally allotted for Rajapaksa’s term.

Friday’s announcement marks the end of a chaotic week in which the future of Sri Lanka’s leadership was left in limbo after Rajapaksa fled without formally resigning. For almost two days it was unclear whether he would agree to resign; what happens if he refuses to do so; and even his whereabouts from time to time. Tensions escalated as authorities imposed a curfew and used tear gas to disperse protesters.

But even as Rajapaksa officially steps down and a new president is soon to be elected, the economically devastated country looms larger as it struggles with its worst recession in seven decades.

Financial crisis

The mostly peaceful protests in Sri Lanka have been on the rise since March, when public anger spilled onto the streets over rising food prices, fuel shortages and power cuts as the country struggled to pay off debt.

But public anger flared over the weekend when demonstrators occupied the houses of Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka is in chaos and its president has fled.  Here's what we know
Shortly thereafter, both leaders announced they were resigning, with resignations expected on Wednesday. But Rajapaksa left the country on a pre-dawn flight the same day without resigning, leaving Wickremesinghe in charge.

Rajapaksa headed to the Maldives, where the former president had long ties to the Rajapaksa dynasty, but departed just over 24 hours later, boarding a “Saudi flight” to Singapore on Thursday, according to a senior security source in Colombo.

Singapore said Rajapaska was allowed to enter the country on a “private visit” but did not seek or receive asylum.

Shortly after his arrival, Speaker of Parliament Abeivardenena announced that Rajapaksa had resigned.

People in Colombo, Sri Lanka, celebrate after learning of the resignation of President Gotabai Rajapaksa on July 14.

But experts say questions remain about Sri Lanka’s future. If anything, political turmoil and lack of clarity pose problems for the country’s economic recovery, said Ganeshan Vignaraja, senior fellow at UK think tank ODI Global.

“I observe that Sri Lanka is a disordered democracy,” he said. “And in this context, today’s discussions in Parliament took too much time. And this shows the politically dysfunctional nature of our current politics.”

“This political instability can really undermine the economy,” he added. “It might scare investors away, it might scare away tourists, it might scare away domestic remittances and even aid. I’m afraid the economic crisis will take a long time to sort out and people will suffer more if Parliament doesn’t take action.”

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