Colombo, Dec 15 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from his post on Saturday, signalling an end to nearly a two-month-long political crisis that has kept the island nation without a functional government.
The 73-year-old former strongman signed his resignation letter in the presence of his party members at his official residence in the capital, television footage showed.
Rajapaksa’s resignation came after the country’s Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay a lower court order barring him and his Cabinet from functioning. The Parliament had already passed two no-trust motions against him.
“The change of government that the people expected has now had to be put off. But the people will definitely get the change they desire. No one can prevent that,” Rajapaksa said in a statement cited by Efe news.
According to Rajapaksa, he was bowing out to allow President Maithripala Sirisena to “form a new government”.
Sri Lanka has been in turmoil since October 26 when Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who leads the United National Party (UNP), and replaced him with former President Rajapaksa.
Sirisena had also dissolved the Parliament — almost 20 months before its term was to end — and called for a snap parliamentary election in January.
However, the Supreme Court earlier this week had declared the dissolution as unconstitutional and revoked the election dates. This left the country in a lurch without a functioning government and the prospect of being unable to pass the annual budget as Sri Lankan law doesn’t allow the President to approve budgetary provisions.
Wickremesinghe is now expected to return to office on Sunday. “The President has agreed to swear in Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister tomorrow at 10 am,” UNP spokesman Harin Fernando told the BBC.
The ministers of the new Cabinet will take oath on Monday, the Colombo Telegraph reported citing UNP sources.
Shehan Semasinghe, a lawmaker from Rajapaka’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party, said the leader and his group will function as a strong opposition in Parliament and will continue their call for a parliamentary election to end the political instability.
“The main challenge facing us in the interval between now and the formation of a people’s government will be to minimise the damage that can be done by the destructive forces that are now seeking restoration to their former positions,” Rajapaksa said, referring to the comeback of Wickremesinghe on the post.
The Sri Lankan Parliament had earlier this week passed a vote of confidence in Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. His party and its allies have a majority in Parliament.
The crisis had provoked protests in the country and brawls in Parliament, with legislators clashing on the chamber floor — throwing chairs, books, and chilli paste — over who should remain the country’s Prime Minister.