Newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa picks brother as prime minister

COLOMBO • Newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday named his brother Mahinda as prime minister, cementing the grip on power of a clan credited with crushing the Tamil Tigers a decade ago.

Mahinda, a two-term president himself, is due to be sworn in as premier today following the resignation of Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe after his party suffered a humiliating defeat at the weekend's presidential polls.

The Rajapaksa brothers are credited with brutally destroying the Tamil Tigers to end Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, with the security services they controlled accused of war crimes and multiple human rights abuses.

A spokesman for the new administration said Mahinda, 74, will be sworn in by his younger brother Gotabaya, aged 70. Two other brothers, Basil and Chamal, are also active in politics.

"Prime Minister Rajapaksa will have his Cabinet appointed shortly after taking his oath of office," said spokesman Vijayananda Herath.

Gotabaya was defence secretary under Mahinda during his decade as president which ended in January 2015.

With the older Rajapaksa taking over as prime minister, Sri Lanka will, for the first time, have two brothers at the helm. During the first Mahinda presidency, the eldest brother Chamal was the Speaker of Parliament.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe formally announced his resignation yesterday, clearing the way for the Rajapaksas to form a minority government ahead of possible snap elections early next year.

"Although we enjoy a parliamentary majority, we respect the mandate received by Mr Rajapaksa and we have decided to allow him to form a new government," Mr Wickremesinghe, 70, said in an address to the nation.

 
 

Mr Wickremesinghe's party put forward Mr Sajith Premadasa in the presidential election but was soundly beaten by Gotabaya in a highly divisive election in the island nation of 21.6 million.

The Rajapaksas are adored by the Sinhala-Buddhist majority - but loathed among minority Tamils - for spearheading the defeat of Tamil separatist militants in 2009 to end the 37-year civil war.

Around 40,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly killed by the military in the closing stages of the conflict when Gotabaya effectively ran the security forces while his brother was president.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2019, with the headline 'Rajapaksa picks brother as prime minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe