Colombo: Sri Lanka’s parliament was scheduled to meet on Saturday (July 16) to begin electing a new president as a fuel consignment arrived to bring relief to the beleaguered nation.
Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation was accepted by parliament on Friday after he went to Singapore on a private visit to escape anti-government protesters who occupied his official residence and offices.
Over 100 police and security officers with assault rifles were deployed on the approach road to Parliament on Saturday, and barricades and water cannons were put up to prevent unrest. Security forces patrolled another approach road to Parliament, although there were no signs of any protesters.
Lawmakers are to elect a new president within a week, with six-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa’s ally, who is his party’s only representative in parliament, sworn in as acting president by then.
Wickremesinghe, who the protesters also want to go, was chosen as the ruling party’s candidate for the presidency on Friday, raising the possibility of further unrest if elected.
The opposition’s presidential candidate is Sajith Premadasa, while the likely dark horse is senior legislator Dallas Alhapparuma of the ruling party.
Street protests over Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown simmered for months before boiling over a week ago when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the Rajapaksa family and allies for runaway inflation, shortages of essential goods, and corruption.
Days-long fuel queues have become the norm in the island nation of 22 million, while foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to close to zero, and headline inflation hit 54.6 per cent last month.
Sri Lanka received the first of three fuel shipments on Saturday, Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said. These are the first shipments to reach the country in about three weeks.
A second diesel consignment will also arrive on Saturday, with a shipment of petrol due by Tuesday.
“Payments completed for all three,” the minister said in a tweet.