Crisis-hit Sri Lanka faces uncertain transition as vote for new president looms

Politicians will soon gather to elect new president, who will remain in office until 2024

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Sri Lanka's leaders have agreed that MPs will elect a new president next week but are struggling to decide on the makeup of a new government to lift the bankrupt country out of economic and political collapse.

Months of demonstrations have all but dismantled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. It is unclear what options he has left, after failing to flee the country via Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo on Tuesday.

Mr Rajapaksa promised that on Wednesday he would step down and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would leave once a new government was in place.

But negotiating the composition of a new government has stymied opposition leaders — and the protesters have said they will stay put in the official buildings they have invaded until their beleaguered leaders are gone.

A partial solution came late on Monday, with politicians agreeing to elect a new president from their ranks in the coming days. Nominations will be submitted on July 19 and a secret vote in Parliament will take place the following day. The new president will serve the remainder of Mr Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.

But they have not yet decided who will take over as prime minister and fill the Cabinet. Between Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation on Wednesday and the vote, the prime minster will serve as president, according to the constitution — an arrangement that is sure to further anger protesters who want Mr Wickremesinghe out immediately.

The political impasse is exacerbating the economic crisis, as the absence of an alternative unity government could delay any agreement for aid from the International Monetary Fund.

Sri Lanka announced in April it was suspending repayment of foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage.

Asked whether China was talking with Sri Lanka about possible loans, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official gave no indication whether such negotiations were taking place.

“China will continue to offer assistance as our capability allows for Sri Lanka’s social development and economic recovery,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin. “As to its debt to China, we support relevant financial institutions in finding a proper solution through consultation with Sri Lanka.”

Updated: July 12, 2022, 2:53 PM