16 December 2019

Sri Lanka's prime minister set to resign after election setback

KONFRONTASI-The resignation of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is imminent, a spokesman for his office has said, just days after his party's candidate lost a presidential election to Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Under the Sri Lankan constitution, Wickremesinghe's government will be dissolved following his resignation.

"The resignation letter will be sent (to Rajapaksa) by tomorrow," Sudharshana Gunawardena, a spokesman for the prime minister told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

Citing unnamed officials, AFP news agency reported that Wickremesinghe would announce he was standing down later on Wednesday.

Local media separately reported that Rajapaksa, of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), would soon name an interim cabinet to govern the island until the next parliamentary election, expected around April.

Presidential election
A former war-time defence minister, Rajapaksa won the presidency by a sizable margin in Saturday's vote, defeating former housing minister Sajith Premadasa, the candidate of Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP)-led coalition.

Neither the UNP nor the opposition SLPP, which is led by Rajapaksa's elder brother Mahinda, a former president, has an absolute parliamentary majority to form a government. Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to seek the post of prime minister in the next parliamentary election.

In the lead-up to the presidential vote, Rajapaksa's campaign stressed on his credentials as the defence secretary that a decade ago brought a close to a bloody 26-year civil war between government forces and Tamil rebels.

The new president has pledged to fight corruption and improve security in the wake of a series of bombings on Easter Sunday that killed more than 260 people, responsibility for which was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.

Rights groups have long called for investigations into alleged rights abuses committed during the Rajapaksas previous terms in power, including United Nations allegations that more than 40,000 people were killed by security forces in the final days of the country's civil war in the north, as Tamil rebels took shelter among civilians.

The new president also faces a civil suit in the United States for allegedly ordering the torture of a Tamil man and several others when he was the defence secretary.[mr/aje]

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