Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the entire cabinet will step down in the wake of protests

  • Sri Lanka’s president and cabinet will step down this week to make room for a new government as the country faces an economic crisis.
  • Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is also set to step down.
  • Protesters have vowed to continue occupying the homes of the president and prime minister until they resign.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the entire cabinet will step down to make room for a unity government, the prime minister’s office said on Monday after tens of thousands of protesters stormed both men’s official homes.

After Saturday’s extensive protests in the wake of a debilitating economic crisis, the speaker of parliament said Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday. However, there has been no direct message from Rajapaksa about his plans.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he will also step down to allow an interim government with all parties to take over. Wickremesinghe’s office said Rajapaksa had confirmed his resignation plans to the prime minister.

Political instability could hurt the country’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a rescue package, the central bank governor told Reuters in an interview.

Governor P. Nandalal Weerasinghe declared that he would remain in office even though he said in May that he could resign if there was no political stability in the island nation.

Asked if he would continue to govern the central bank, Weerasinghe said: “I have the responsibility once I have been appointed to serve for [a] six-year period. “

Leaders of the protest movement said the crowds would continue to occupy the homes of the president and prime minister in Colombo until they finally leave office.

Over the weekend in the president’s house, protesters jumped into the swimming pool, relaxed on a four-poster bed, pushed around on a treadmill and tried on the sofas.

Colombo was quiet Monday as hundreds of people strolled into the presidential secretariat and residence and toured colonial-era buildings. Police did not try to stop anyone.

“We are not going anywhere until this president leaves and we have a government that is acceptable to the people,” said Jude Hansana, 31, who has been at a protest site outside the residence since early April.

Another protester, Dushantha Gunasinghe, said he had traveled to Colombo from a town 130km away while walking part of the way due to the fuel jam. He said he finally arrived Monday morning.

He said:

I’m so exhausted I can barely speak. I came alone all this way because I think we need to see this through. This government needs to go home, and we need better leaders.

Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe were not in their homes when protesters stormed the buildings and have not been seen in public since Friday.

Rajapaksa’s whereabouts were not known, but Wickremesinghe’s media team said he was holding a meeting with cabinet ministers at the prime minister’s office on Monday morning.

Wickremesinghe’s private home in a wealthy Colombo suburb was set on fire on Saturday and three suspects have been arrested, police said.

Constitutional experts say that when the president and prime minister formally resign, the next step will be for the speaker to be appointed acting president and for parliament to vote for a new president within 30 days to complete Rajapaksa’s term, which should end in 2024.

Ordinary Sri Lankans have mainly blamed Rajapaksa for the collapse of the tourism-dependent economy, which was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a ban on chemical fertilizers that harmed agricultural production. The ban was later lifted.

ALSO READ | Sri Lankan protesters promise not to give up until the president, the prime minister, resigns

State finances were crippled by rising debt and lavish tax breaks provided by the Rajapaksa regime. Foreign exchange reserves were quickly depleted as oil prices rose.

The country has barely dollars left to import fuel, which has been heavily rationed, and long queues have formed in front of shops selling cooking gas. Overall inflation in the country of 22 million hit 54.6% last month, and the central bank has warned that it could rise to 70% in the coming months.

The political crisis sent Sri Lanka’s government bonds, which are already in default, to new lows. The country’s 2025 bond fell as much as 2.25 cents on the dollar, while most were now below 30 cents, or 70% below their face value.

Lutz Roehmeyer of Capitulum Asset Management, which has Sri Lanka dollar bonds, said an IMF deal could happen this year or next, but for bondholders, a restructuring was likely only in 2024 or 2025.

“It’s total chaos,” Roehmeyer said. “The expectation is that the transfer of power will be more chaotic and it will take longer to reach an agreement.”

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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the entire cabinet will step down in the wake of protests

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