Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa steps down; vows to continue struggle to come to power

Rajapaksa-stepping-down Mahinda Rajapaksa | AP

Curtains were down on the six weeks-long political crisis in Sri Lanka as disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Saturday.

Rajapaksa chose to step down after the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, on Friday, ruled against President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to dissolve the parliament. Rajapaksa, flanked by his supporters and his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs, signed the letter of resignation in the presence of various religious leaders, but made it clear later that he is not throwing in the towel.

“Since I have no intention of remaining as prime minister without a general election being held, and in order not to hamper the president in any way, I will resign from the position of prime minister and make way for the president to form a new government,” Rajapaksa said in a long speech in Sinhala after he stepped down.

It all began on October 26 when President Sirisena invited Rajapaksa to swear in as the prime minister. The island nation’s parliament witnessed ugly scenes of power struggle and several no confidence motions. However, Rajapaksa continued to cling on to power despite suffering setbacks in all the no-confidence motions. While United National Party (UNP) leader and ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his party refused to give up and fought in the parliament and in the court, Rajapaksa and his partymen worked towards building a parliamentary majority. Nonetheless, even those members of UNP who were opposed to the unpopular decisions and policies of Wickremesinghe refused to switch sides.

Later, addressing the nation from his Wijerama Mawatha residence, Rajapaksa said, “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.”

Stating that the coming together of the joint opposition and the SLFP group that was in the government has now created a power block that commands around 54 per cent of the vote base, he said, “There is a wide political force that is gathering against the enemies of the country. Our main aim in the immediate future will be to hold the provincial council elections which have already been delayed by more than one year and three months. The main challenge we are facing in the interval between now and the formation of a people’s government will be to minimise the damage that can be done by the destructive forces that are now seeking restoration to their former positions. There is no doubt at all that the people who stood by us since 2015 will continue to support us in the future as well. We will bring the forces opposed to the country down to their knees by organising the people.”