Angry groups storm President’s House, Secretariat and Temple Trees; Party leaders meet to find solution to growing crisis
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to step down from office next Wednesday (July 13), Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced last night
“The President was agreeable with the decision. However, due to the need to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, the President informed me to convey to the country that he will step down from his post on Wednesday, July 13,” Mr Abeywardena said.
He said given the President’s decision, there was no need for further unrest and, appealed to everyone to remain calm and pave the way for a peaceful transfer of power for the sake of the country and its future.
The announcement from the Speaker last evening came as the whereabouts of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa were not known as a large contingent of protesters surged into the President’s House in Colombo Fort and simultaneously to the Presidential Secretariat and entered both premises. Many of them later swam in the Presidential swimming pool, used the kitchen to cook food and occupied both premises overnight.
At the Presidential Secretariat, they were on the balcony and did not enter the office premises. Another group later occupied Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister. Neither the President nor the Prime Minister was in their official residences at the time they were entered.
Soon after the security at the President’s House and Presidential Secretariat were breached, the Speaker summoned a meeting of party leaders on a suggestion of the Prime Minister to discuss the day’s events. The meeting was held at the Speaker’s official residence at Sri Jayawardanapura, Kotte where a majority of party leaders represented in Parliament decided that both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should resign as soon as possible. This is to pave the way for the formation of a broad-based interim government.
In a statement issued after the party leaders’ meeting, the Prime Minister’s office said that Premier Wickremesinghe had told the party leaders that he is willing to resign as Prime Minister and make way for an all-party government to take over.
“He says he is taking this decision in view of the fact that the island-wide fuel distribution is due to recommence this week, the World Food Program Director is due to visit the country this week, and the Debt Sustainability report for the IMF is due to be finalised shortly,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said. It added that Mr Wickremesinghe is agreeable to the recommendation by the opposition party leaders “so as to ensure the safety of the citizens”.
An official statement issued on the talks stated that it was also decided to summon Parliament within seven days to select an acting President, and a new Prime Minister in an interim all-party government. It was also decided to call for a parliamentary election during a definite period.
Yesterday’s decision came at an urgent meeting Speaker Abeywardena summoned at his official residence. Several party leaders participated via Zoom. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa is currently hospitalised due to the viral flu and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) was represented by MPs Lakshman Kiriella and party secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
The developments came following yesterday’s popular uprising and the unprecedented storming of the 1804 – built President’s House , the Presidential Secretariat and Temple Trees by organised groups and angry citizens as political party leaders yesterday called on Speaker to be acting President of Sri Lanka until a permanent nominee is voted by Parliament to that post.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was represented by its Chairman and Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris and former Minister Ali Sabry. They had offered three formulas viz., the President remains and heads an all-party government, the President announces a date for his resignation while heading an all-party government, or both the President and the Prime Minister resign. Other party leaders, however, dismissed the first two options demanding the immediate resignation of the President and PM.
Speaker Abeywardena last night wrote to the President detailing the decisions taken at the party leaders’ meeting.
His letter said among the proposals was that the President and Prime Minister should step down, an acting President should be elected by Parliament with general consensus, an all-party government be established with a new prime minister paving the way for Parliamentary elections in a definite time frame.
In it, he noted that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had proposed three alternative proposals to those offered by other party leaders.
One proposal is for the President to step down and appoint the PM as acting President. Once this is done, an interim all-party government headed by a new Premier will be appointed. The third proposal is for both the President and PM to step down and for an acting President to be appointed from Parliament, for a new PM to be appointed by all-party consensus. An interim government will then be appointed and the opportunity given to establish a new government after a specific timeframe.
There was, however, no word from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his whereabouts were kept secret yesterday. Before the people stormed the fortified official residence, he had left the premises where he had been living since his Mirihana private residence was surrounded by protesters in March. The President’s Media Division (PMD) was not functioning last night with Director Sudeva Hettiarachchi having announced his resignation today. Presidential spokesperson Kingsley Ratnayake resigned in April.
Police estimated that more than 100,000 people took part in the protest march despite the transport services being badly disrupted due to the shortage of fuel.
On Friday night, in a bid to stymie the protest, Police Chief C.D. Wickramaratne declared an indefinite police curfew. Amidst protests, this announcement was rescinded last morning.
Disclaimer: President to step down on Wednesday; PM will also resign - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view