Sri Lanka’s president submitted his resignation shortly after reaching Singapore on Thursday, the parliamentary speaker’s office said, days after the head of state fled protests triggered by his country’s worst-ever economic crisis.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emailed resignation would be examined before a formal announcement expected on Friday is made, the speaker’s spokesman Indunil Yapa said.
Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on Wednesday, after protesters overran his palace on the weekend, heading first to the Maldives and then Singapore.
A news report that the authenticity and the legality of the e-mail will have to be checked out before being formally accepted.
Rajapaksa would be the first president to resign since Sri Lanka adopted a presidential system of government in 1978.
A small but jubilant crowd, some waving the national flag, danced and chanted in celebration outside the presidential secretariat as news of the resignation broke.
Protester Harinda Fonseka said that it is a monumental victory, but it is only a first step.
Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe whose resignation is also being demanded by protesters would automatically become acting president until parliament can appoint a successor.
Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards arrived in Singapore from Male on board a Saudi airline flight.
As president, Rajapaksa enjoyed immunity from arrest, and he is understood to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
The former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed is believed to have played a behind-the-scenes role in getting him out of the country, and said Rajapaksa feared he would be killed if he remained.
Singapore’s foreign ministry confirmed Rajapaksa had been allowed to enter the city-state for a private visit, adding that he has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum.
He is expected to look to stay in Singapore for some time, according to Sri Lankan security sources, before potentially moving to the United Arab Emirates.
Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the island nation’s economy to a point where it has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people, with four out of five Sri Lankans skipping meals.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.
The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol with the government ordering the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.
In Colombo, demonstrators earlier left several of the emblematic state buildings they had taken over in recent days after Wickremesinghe instructed security forces to restore order and declared a state of emergency.
Witnesses saw dozens of activists leave Wickremesinghe’s office as armed police and security forces moved in.
The capital was put under curfew and armoured personnel carriers patrolled some areas.