Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned from his post on Thursday as protesters took to the street in response to the nation’s disastrous economic situation. The following day, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took over as president on an interim basis.
Reports indicate that national leaders are expected to meet on Saturday to select a candidate to serve as president until the current term ends in two years. The approval process could be completed in about a week.
Wickremesinghe could also find himself out of a job if the incoming president decides to name a new prime minister and Parliament confirms the nominee. He has served in the role since May and was initially seen as a moderating force for a country experiencing widespread unemployment and poverty.
Although calls for the president’s resignation began to wane after Wickremesinghe became prime minister, the economic situation continued to worsen across Sri Lanka and pressure on Rajapaksa once again increased over the past two months.
The situation has become desperate for millions of citizens after a period of economic growth that had benefited a large swath of the population. Many critics blamed the president for the nation’s dramatic and abrupt decline.
Since Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa are generally seen as political allies, a growing number of Sri Lankans also want to see the prime minister ousted. In fact, protesters celebrating Rajapaksa’s resignation used the opportunity to call for Wickremesinghe to also be forced out of office.
In addition to seizing the presidential residence this week, demonstrators also stormed the prime minister’s office to express their outrage.
One former banker participating in the demonstration said that “Ranil is a supporter of Gotabaya and other Rajapaksas,” adding that the prime minister “was helping them” and “also must go.”
As for the former president, he fled the country on Wednesday as protesters surrounded his residence. Since he was constitutionally protected from arrest while still in power, Rajapaksas used his final hours as president to escape possible prosecution.
He officially resigned the following day and admitted that his decisions exacerbated the nation’s dramatic economic downturn.
A severe gas shortage has forced schools and other essential services to abruptly halt and desperate citizens wait in exceedingly long lines in hopes of purchasing fuel for their own vehicles. Making matters even worse, the economy is experiencing skyrocketing inflation, with the rate in June approaching 55%.