COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan leaders agreed that lawmakers would elect a new president next week, but struggled on Tuesday to decide the composition of a new government to pull the bankrupt country out of economic collapse. and politics.
Desperate in the face of severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, protesters stormed the embattled president on Saturday Gotabaya Rajapaksahis seaside office and the official residence of his Prime Minister on the most dramatic day of a three-month crisis.
Both officials said they would give in to demands to resign: Rajapaksa promised to step down on Wednesday, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would leave once a new government is in place. In a possible indication of the president’s next move, immigration officials said Rajapaksa’s brother, who was once his finance minister, tried to leave the country on Monday night. Local media reported that he was unable to.
But negotiating a new government has stalled opposition leaders – and protesters have said they will stay in official buildings until their top leaders are gone. For days people flocked to the presidential palace, almost turning it into a tourist attraction – swimming in the pool, marveling at the paintings and lounging on the beds piled high with pillows. At one point they also burned down the Prime Minister’s private house.
A partial solution came on Monday night, with lawmakers agreeing to elect a new president to their ranks in the coming days. Nominations for the position will be submitted on July 19 and a secret ballot will follow. Parliament July 20. The new president will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.
But they have yet to decide who will take over as prime minister and fill the cabinet. Between Rajapaksa’s expected resignation on Wednesday and the vote, the prime minister will take over as president – an arrangement that is sure to further anger protesters who want Wickremesinghe out immediately.
The political stalemate is further fueling the economic crisis as the absence of an alternative unity government threatened to delay an aid deal from the International Monetary Fund. In the meantime, the country is counting on help from neighboring India and China.
Corruption and mismanagement have left the island nation saddled with debt, unable to pay for imports of food, fuel, medicine and other basic necessities, causing widespread shortages and desperation among its 22 million inhabitants. Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign currency.
Asked if China was discussing possible loans with Sri Lanka, a Chinese foreign ministry official gave no indication if such talks were taking place.
“China will continue to offer assistance as our capabilities enable Sri Lanka’s social development and economic recovery,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “Regarding its debt to China, we are assisting the relevant financial institutions to find an appropriate solution through consultations with Sri Lanka.”
On Tuesday, religious leaders in Sri Lanka urged protesters to vacate the government buildings they occupy if Rajapaksa steps down as promised on Wednesday. The protesters have vowed to wait until Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe are removed from their posts.
It is unclear what will happen to these men once they step down.
Months of protests have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades, and there is speculation the president may be trying to flee Sri Lanka – as apparently his brother has attempted to do so.
S. Kanugala of the Association of Immigration and Emigration Officers of Sri Lanka said Basil Rajapaksa’s name was spotted on a Colombo airport departure list on Monday and his officers feared for their safety if they allowed him to leave.
Kanugala said the officers withdrew from their posts and he did not know what happened to the brother. But local media reported that he was prevented from leaving the country.

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