Wednesday, 5 October, 2022

Rajapaksa tenders resignation from S’pore

Rajapaksa tenders resignation from S’pore
Gotabaya Rajapaksa

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa e-mailed his resignation on Thursday, shortly after he reached Singapore, report agencies.

A spokesman for the parliamentary speaker revealed this to media.

The resignation was being forwarded to the country's attorney general to consider legal implications before being formally accepted, spokesman Indunil Yapa said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in Singapore on Thursday evening on a private visit after fleeing protests triggered by an economic crisis.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards arrived in the city-state from the Maldives, where they had initially escaped to a day earlier.

The Saudia airline plane carrying them landed at Singapore's Changi Airport at 7:17 pm (1117 GMT).

Singapore's foreign ministry confirmed Rajapaksa had been allowed to enter the city-state but insisted it was for a "private visit".

"He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum. Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum," it said in a statement.

Earlier, a Maldives government official said Rajapaksa boarded a flight of Saudia, formerly known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, on Thursday bound for Singapore.

Like Maldives, Sri Lankans were waiting in one of Changi airport's arrival areas to voice their anger at Rajapaksa and the economic crisis engulfing their homeland.

But authorities were quick to warn against protests -- it is illegal for even one person to stage a demonstration in tightly-controlled Singapore without prior official permission.

In a statement issued after Rajapaksa's arrival, police urged people to "abide by our local laws. Action will be taken against anyone participating in a public assembly that is illegal".                

He is expected to look to stay in the city-state for some time, according to Sri Lankan security sources, before potentially moving to the United Arab Emirates.

Rajapaksa, 73,  and his wife fled Sri Lanka early Wednesday aboard an air force jet as protesters were taking over government buildings to demand he resign.

Rajapaksa promised over the weekend he would do so, but instead he named his prime minister acting president in his absence, further incensing those who blame the government for the crisis.

Meanwhile Thursday, the government announced a curfew in the capital Colombo and its suburbs to run until 5 am Friday and protesters were withdrawing from the presidential palace after occupying it during the weekend. Some were seen unrolling a red carpet in the palace as they left.

Anticipating more protests after a group attempted to storm the Parliament’s entrance a day earlier, troops in green military uniforms and camouflage vests arrived by armored personnel carriers Thursday to reinforce barricades around the building.

Some protesters had posted videos on social media pleading with others not to storm the Parliament, fearing an escalation of violence.

Protest leader Devinda Kodagode told The Associated Press they were vacating official buildings after the Parliament speaker said he was seeking legal options to consider since Rajapaksa left without submitting his resignation letter as promised.

The protesters accuse the president and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy.

The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown.

It was not immediately clear what Rajapaksa’s destination would be. Maldives officials initially indicated he planned to travel onward to Saudi Arabia, but later could only confirm his first stop in Singapore.

Since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power it’s likely Rajapaksa planned his departure while he still had constitutional immunity and access to a military jet.

On Wednesday, protesters undeterred by multiple rounds of tear gas scaled the walls to enter the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the crowd outside cheered in support and tossed water bottles to them.

Protesters took turns posing at the prime minister’s desk or stood on a rooftop terrace waving the Sri Lankan flag.

Amid the mounting chaos, Wickremesinghe’s office imposed a state of emergency giving broader powers to the military and police.

Defense leaders have called for calm and cooperation with security forces — comments that have rankled some lawmakers who insist civilian leaders would be the ones to find a solution.

The protesters blame the Rajapaksas for leading the country into an economic abyss, but they are also furious with Wickremesinghe.

They believe he has protected the president and that his appointment in May alleviated pressure on Rajapaksa to resign.

Wickremesinghe also has said he will resign, but not until a new government is in place.

He has urged the speaker of Parliament to find a new prime minister agreeable to both the ruling and opposition parties.

It’s unclear when that might happen since the opposition is deeply fractured. But assuming that Rajapaksa resigns as promised, Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president on July 20 who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.

That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament.

The political impasse threatens to worsen the bankrupt nation’s economic collapse since the absence of an alternative government could delay a hoped-for bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

In the meantime, the country is relying on aid from India and China.

The shortages of basic necessities have sown despair among Sri Lanka’s 22 million people.

The country’s rapid decline was all the more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class.

“Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — but there are so many more,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old student of maritime electrical engineering, who is not related to the prime minister.

He complained that Sri Lankan politics have been dominated for years by “old politicians” who all need to go.

“Politics needs to be treated like a job — you need to have qualifications that get you hired, not because of what your last name is,” he said, referring to the Rajapaksa family.

After the president fled to the Maldives the whereabouts of other Rajapaksa family members who had served in the government were unclear.