Sri Lanka’s ruling party asks new president to help with ex-leader Rajapaksa’s return

Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Thailand

Sri Lanka’s ruling party has asked the country’s new president to provide security and other assistance for his predecessor who fled to Southeast Asia last month after protests flared amid a crippling economic crisis, an official said on Thursday.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew to Singapore last month and quit as Sri Lanka’s president, making way for veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe to win a vote in parliament and take the top job.

Rajapaksa, who has been accused of mishandling the island nation’s economy leading to its worst financial crisis in seven decades, is currently in Thailand for a temporary stay.

Sagara Kariyawasam, general secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, said his party had approached Wickremesinghe for help to enable Rajapaksa’s return.

“We requested the president to facilitate and provide the necessary security and facilities for former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to return to the country,” Kariyawasam told Reuters.

“The date of his return is not finalised.”

Local broadcaster Newsfirst, citing a former ambassador, said on Wednesday that Rajapaksa would return home next week.

In an interview with Reuters earlier on Thursday, Wickremesinghe said he was “not aware” of any such plans for the former president’s return.

A former military officer who took office after winning an election in 2019 by a landslide majority, Rajapaksa is the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term.

His resignation followed widespread protests in the island nation of 22 million people, and came after thousands of people stormed the presidential residence and office in the commercial capital Colombo in early July.