Colombo, July 16 (EFE).- Sri Lankan parliamentarians convened on Saturday for a special session before picking a new president, following a financial crisis and mass demonstrations that led Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the island aboard a military jet.
Rajapaksa was forced to escape by street protesters amid the worst economic crisis in decades, which has left the nation of 22 million people unable to pay for food, medicine, and gasoline.
The process of selecting a new president will begin Tuesday when nominations for the position are accepted.
If more than one contender joins the race, lawmakers will vote the next day.
There will be no debate on the nominations, Parliament Secretary-General Dhammika Dassanayake said.
“If only one name is nominated, I will announce (on July 19 ) that the parliamentarian is selected to fill the vacant president’s seat,” he said.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa Friday said he was throwing his hat in the ring.
“I am contesting. The electorate is confined to 225 MPs with the GR (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) coalition dominating the numbers. Even though it is an uphill struggle I am convinced that truth will prevail,” he announced on Twitter.
A spokesperson for the former president’s party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) told EFE that a fraction of the party was backing the acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Another fraction is nominating Dullas Alahapperuma, a breakaway candidate of the party.
Former president Rajapaksa’s resignation letter was read in parliament during the brief session on Saturday.
“Even three months after starting my role as president, Sri Lanka had to face the deadly Covid-19 pandemic that affected the whole world.
Despite Sri Lanka, even then, going through an economic crisis it is my happiness that I was able to save people from the pandemic,” the former president said.
“To protect people from Covid-19, the country had to be closed from time to time in 2020 and 2021. This aggravated the economic crisis that was ongoing for years, which also resulted in a decrease in foreign currency.”
He said he would continue to serve the country “to the best of my strength as I did before.”
The Indian Ocean island nation is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from the British Empire in 1948.
The country is currently negotiating with the IMF for a bailout to restore its financial stability.
Sri Lanka has been suffering for months from shortages of medicines, food, and fuel, partly due to heavy debts, flawed government policies, and the impact of the pandemic on tourism.
With international reserves at record lows and the decision to suspend payments on its foreign debt in April, Sri Lanka approached the IMF in search of a credit line to restore fiscal stability while trying to reach agreements for debt restructuring.
However, the island’s political turmoil, which saw thousands of demonstrators call for Rajapaksa’s resignation, blocked the progress. EFE