Sri Lanka’s parliament was due to meet on Saturday to begin the process of electing a new president, as a shipment of fuel arrived to provide some relief to the crisis-hit nation.
The resignation of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was accepted by parliament on Friday, after he flew to Singapore on a private visit to escape anti-government protesters who had occupied his official residence and offices.
More than 100 police and security officers with assault rifles were deployed on the approach road to parliament on Saturday, manning barricades and a water cannon to prevent any unrest. Columns of security forces patrolled another approach road to parliament, though there were no signs of any protesters.
Lawmakers are scheduled to elect a new president within a week, with six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, an ally of the Rajapaksas who is the sole representative of his party in parliament, sworn in as acting president until then.
Wickremesinghe, who protesters want gone too, was selected as the ruling party’s candidate for president on Friday, leading to the prospect of further unrest should he be elected.
The opposition’s presidential nominee is Sajith Premadasa, while the potential dark horse is senior ruling party lawmaker Dullas Alahapperuma.
Street protests over Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown simmered for months before boiling over a week ago when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the Rajapaksa family and allies for runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.
Days-long fuel queues have become the norm in the island nation of 22 million, while foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to close to zero and headline inflation hit 54.6 per cent last month.
Sri Lanka received the first of three fuel shipments on Saturday, Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said. These are the first shipments to reach the country in about three weeks.
A second diesel consignment will also arrive on Saturday, with a shipment of petrol due by Tuesday.
“Payments completed for all three,” the minister said in a tweet.