COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties were meeting Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the country’s president and prime minister offered to resign in the most dramatic day of monthslong political turmoil, with protesters storming both leaders’ homes and setting fire to one of the buildings in a rage over the economic crisis.
Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home, his seaside office and the prime minister’s residence, saying they will stay until they officially resign. The president’s whereabouts are still unknown, but a statement from his office said he ordered officials to start immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.
Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defense Staff, called for the support of the public in order to keep law and disorder in the city. But troops simply watched from afar as crowds of people splashed in the garden pool, lounged on beds and used their cellphone cameras to capture the moment in Rajapaksa’s sprawling residence.
On Sunday, occupants of the prime minister’s official residence cooked in an outdoor kitchen, played carrom — a popular tabletop game — and slept on big sofas.
Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a top official in main opposition party United People’s Force, said that separate discussions were held with other parties and lawmakers who broke away from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition and more meetings are planned. Although he expected an agreement to be in place by Sunday, he did not specify when it might happen.
M. A. Sumanthiran (another opposition lawmaker) stated earlier that the 113 required members of Parliament could be easily gathered by all parties. They will then request Rajapaksa for the installation and resignation of the new government.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, said that he would leave office when a new government was in place. Hours later, the Speaker of Parliament announced Rajapaksa’s resignation. As the economy collapsed, people were left with severe shortages of basic items. This led to increased pressure on both Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe.
According to the Constitution, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abueywardena can take office temporarily as president if both prime minister and president resign.
Rajapaksa nominated Wickremesinghe to be the prime minister in May, in an attempt to end economic decline and solve shortages.
Wickremesinghe has been involved in crucial discussions with the International Monetary Fund and World Food Program regarding a possible bailout plan. To reach an agreement with the IMF, the government must present a plan to ensure that its debt is sustainable by August.
According to analysts, it seems unlikely that Wickremesinghe will be the next leader. His government’s efforts showed promise, with much-needed fertilizer being distributed to farmers for next season’s cultivation and cooking gas orders arriving in the country Sunday.
“This kind of unrest could create confusion among international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank,” political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya said, adding that a new administration should agree on a common program for economic recovery.
He said while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, his administration’s weakness was not implementing a long-term plan to go with its focus on solving day-to-day problems.
Without losing support from some parties, it is highly unlikely that an all party government would agree to IMF-backed economic Reforms.
Wickremesinghe declared Saturday that he would not be allowed to go without any government.
“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF,” Wickremesinghe said. “Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government.”
Four Cabinet ministers have resigned since Saturday’s protests.
Wickremesinghe, Abeywardena and the Parliament Speaker said they had spoken to the President in their speeches, but they didn’t say anything about where he is.
Protesters also broke into the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire during the melee on Saturday. Ruwan Wijewardena from his party said Wickremesinghe had been inside the residence when protesters arrived, but security personnel removed him to another location.
Wijewardena claimed that these acts would only cause polarization in society and within political parties.
“If these kinds of incidents keep on going, we can wave bye-bye to the IMF and any international assistance that is going to come to the country. If there is lawlessness, if there is no coming together among the political groups, there is no way the international community can come in and help this country,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was tracking the developments in Sri Lanka and urged Parliament to work quickly to implement solutions and address people’s discontent.
Blinken, speaking at a Bangkok press conference, stated that the United States condemned the attacks on peaceful demonstrators and called for an in-depth investigation of any violence related to protests.
As leaders attempt to reach an agreement with IMF, Sri Lanka’s leadership is dependent on the aid of India and other countries. Wickremesinghe stated recently that the IMF negotiations were difficult because Sri Lanka is now bankrupt.
Sri Lanka said in April it would suspend repayments of its foreign loans because there was a shortage of foreign currencies. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt is $51 Billion. Of this, it will have to repay $28 Billion by the end 2027.
Protesters accuse Rajapaksa of corruption and mismanagement after months of protests. The Rajapaksa political family has been ruling Sri Lanka for the majority of the last two decades. The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base. Later, he moved to Colombo.
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