After clinging on to power for nearly two months, Sri Lanka’s ex-strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was appointed Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena in a controversial move, resigned Saturday to end the political turmoil and pave way for the return of ousted premier Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The 73-year-old ex-president signed a letter of resignation during a multi-religious service at his home here that was attended by several lawmakers of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Buddhist and other religious leaders.
Sirisena also agreed on Friday to reinstate Wickremesinghe on Sunday despite previously insisting that he would never reappoint him as Prime Minister.
Rajapaksa resigned after two crucial Supreme Court decisions made the embattled former strongman’s efforts to cling to premiership untenable.
He was appointed as Prime Minister on October 26 by President Sirisena in a controversial move after sacking Wickremesinghe, which plunged the country into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Wickremesinghe had refused to step down asserting that his sacking was illegal.
Rajapaksa had sought to secure a majority in the 225-member Parliament but failed. Sirisena then dissolved Parliament and called snap elections on January 5.
However, the Supreme Court overturned his decision and halted the preparations for snap polls.
The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously declared that the dissolution of Parliament by Sirisena was “illegal”.
The apex court on Friday also refused to stay a court order restraining Rajapaksa, 73, from holding the office of Prime Minister until it fully heard the case next month.
After signing the resignation letter, Rajapaksa said that following the February 10 local government election, the aim of his party is to have a general election.
However, he said that he has no intention of remaining as Prime Minister without a general election being held, and in order to not hamper the President in any way, he resigned from the position of Prime Minister and made way for the President to form a new Government.
“The Supreme Court has delivered a judgement against the holding of the general election that had already been declared. Since that judgement is a long and complicated document, I will study it carefully and in due course express my views on the constitutional impact it will have on the functioning of the parliamentary system of government,” Rajapaksa said.
Rajapaksa said that since a general election can no longer be held, the UPFA cannot implement any of the measures they had planned to take “to prevent the country from becoming another Greece.”
“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,” he said.
Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) on Saturday said that Sirisena has agreed to reinstate him in the post after a discussion with him over the phone on Friday.
“We have heard from the presidential secretariat that our leader will be sworn in as the Prime Minister tomorrow morning,” UNP general secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said.
Parliamentarian Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena on Friday said Rajapaksa, who had ruled Sri Lanka for nearly a decade, decided to step down “in the best interest of the country”.
He claimed Rajapaksa can hold office without resigning but that will only further drag the political turmoil in the country. So the former president decided to step down after the court ruling given on Friday and on Thursday.
The Supreme Court on Friday decided that a Court of Appeal order issued against the appointment of Rajapaksa as Prime Minister and against his Cabinet from holding office will stand.
The appeal filed by Rajapaksa will be taken up for hearing on January 16, 17 and 18.
The apex court asked all parties to provide written submissions within three weeks.
According to media reports, a new Cabinet will be sworn in on Monday. The Cabinet will consist of 30 members and include six Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) parliamentarians.
Most of the countries had not recognised Rajapaksa’s government. The global credit rating agencies — the Fitch, the Standard & Poor’s and the Moody’s — had also downgraded Sri Lanka’s rating owing to the current political crisis.