Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency Sunday for the island nation that has been wracked with a crippling economic crisis and weeks of protests.
The declaration said the move was needed “in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”
Wickremesinghe, who is the former prime minister, was sworn in as the country’s acting president last week, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned the presidency after arriving in Singapore, from the Maldives where he first fled to escape the protests about the country’s economic woes.
Rajapaksa’s resignation was formally accepted Friday by the speaker of Parliament, who said that a new president would be elected within a week to serve the remaining two years of the president’s term.
Saying that the election will be done in a “swift and transparent manner,” the speaker of Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, called on people to “create a peaceful atmosphere” to implement the democratic process.
His appeal came after a chaotic week, in which protesters stormed the president’s and prime minister’s residences and offices after Rajapaksa defied monthslong calls to step down. They only vacated the buildings on Thursday, saying they had achieved their objective of demonstrating people’s power and wanted to ensure their struggle remains peaceful.
The 73-year-old Rajapaksa’s resignation marks a major victory for the protest movement that had demanded his exit after an economic crisis left the island nation struggling with runaway inflation and severe shortages of fuel and medicine, as foreign exchange reserves ran out.
Rajapaksa and his family, who held key posts in the government, including that of prime minister and finance minister, controlled about 70% of the national budget and are widely blamed for mismanagement leading to the country becoming virtually bankrupt. It was a rude shock for a nation once hailed as a success story among developing countries with a well-educated population and a large middle class.
Seen as being close to the Rajapaksas and accused of alleviating pressure on Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign after he accepted the prime minister’s job in May, Wickremesinghe also is under pressure from protesters to quit.
Wickremesinghe had earlier said he will step down when a new administration is in place and called on political parties to elect a new unity government, but the ruling party has said he will be their choice for the next president.
The main opposition party wants its leader, Sajith Premadasa, to head the country. Political observers said it is imperative for lawmakers to set aside their differences and arrive at a consensus.
“The hope is that the political parties can come together because restoring the economy has to be a collective effort and everyone must share the responsibility,” says Jehan Perera at the National Peace Council research group in Colombo.