Sri Lankans were on the edge on Tuesday as they waited whether embattled Gotabaya Rajapaksa will honour his offer to resign as president, amid reports that key members of the erstwhile powerful ruling family were attempting to flee in the face of massive public anger against them for mishandling the economy that has bankrupt the country.
Rajapaksa, whose whereabouts are not known since Friday, was blocked from departing Sri Lanka on Monday after refusing to join a public queue at the Colombo airport in order to have his passport checked by immigration, CNN reported, citing a high-ranking military source.
It said Rajapaksa’s aides arrived at the airport with 15 passports belonging to the president and members of his family – including First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa – who had booked seats on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight leaving for Dubai at 6:25 p.m. local time on Monday, according to the military source.
Immigration officers declined to process the passports given to them by presidential aides, as Rajapaksa and his family were not physically present for cross checks and, eventually, the flight departed without the president and his family on board, the source added.
Earlier, 73-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s younger brother and ex-finance minister Basil Rajapaksa tried to leave Sri Lanka but was stopped by immigration officials at the airport.
Basil, the 71-year-old leader who is being widely held responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis which has heaped misery on the people, tried to leave the country on Monday night through the VIP terminal of Colombo airport.
The Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers Association said the immigration officials objected to serving him at the VIP clearance line and even the passengers of the Emirates flight to Dubai had objected to his leaving.
Basil, a US passport holder, resigned as finance minister in early April as street protests intensified against shortages of fuel, food and other necessities and quit his seat in parliament in June.
Hours later, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking an interim order restraining former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and other influential officials of the Rajapaksa regime from fleeing the country without the prior approval of the apex court.
The petitioners also sought an order to take legal action against those responsible for financial irregularities and mismanagement of the Lankan economy, news portal dailymirror.lk reported.
Besides Mahinda, the petition urged travel restrictions on Basil, former Central Bank governors Ajith Nivard Cabraal and W D Lakshman, and former finance secretary S R Atygalle.
The employees of SriLankan Airlines withdrew from their duties from noon in a bid to prevent responsible officials involved in the country’s present crisis from leaving, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.
President Rajapaksa has informed both Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will resign on July 13, days after protesters stormed his official residence in rage over the island nation’s worst economic crisis.
Speaker Abeywardena is expected to publicly announce President Rajapaksa’s resignation to the nation on Wednesday.
The Sri Lanka Air Force on Tuesday rejected reports that President Rajapaksa was currently staying at a private house belonging to its chief Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana, describing it as “propaganda” to tarnish the force’s image.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s political parties have stepped up efforts to form an all-party government and subsequently elect a new President on July 20 to prevent the bankrupt nation sliding further into anarchy.
A meeting was held between the main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and former president Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Parties have begun campaigning for the support of possible candidates. The SJB said they will campaign for the appointment of Sajith Premadasa as the interim President.
Premadasa said on Monday that his party was ready to lead the country at the presidential and prime ministerial level and develop the economy.
Independent MP Patali Champika Ranawaka on Tuesday said that he expects that President Rajapaksa will not play anymore “games” and will step down peacefully as expected tomorrow.
Ranawaka stressed that the Rajapaksas, with emphasis on former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should make a formal statement tomorrow and should bid adieu to politics.
Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the Speaker of parliament will serve as acting president for a maximum of 30 days.
The Parliament will elect a new president within 30 days from one of its members, who will hold the office for the remaining two years of the current term.
The political uncertainty prevails in Sri Lanka where the distribution of cooking gas has resumed alongside the delivery of fuel to retailers by the Indian Oil Company after a stoppage on Sunday. Long queues are still seen at fuel pumps.
The protesters continue to occupy the three main buildings in the capital, the President’s House, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister’s official residence, Temple Trees, calling for their resignations. Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.