Five years ago, the Rajapaksa family seemed to have lost everything. Mahinda Rajapaksa ended his ten year term and lost the 2015 presidential election in Sri Lanka. He was the hero of the majority Sinhala Buddhists who militarily defeated the Thirty Minority Armed Movement. His time between human rights abuses, murders, and money laundering ended when he returned and was hanged in the central courtyard. His younger brother Gotabhaya was no longer second only to Mahinda in the defense ministry. Basil had lost his post as Minister of Economic Development and was no longer the owner of his house in Malwana. Their elder brother Chamal soon lost his post as Speaker of Parliament. And the worst thing that happened to this family at the time was,.
But five years is the age of politics. Three generations ago, in 1936, the powerful political dynasty first entered Parliament with the comrades whom Sri Lankans jokingly call. As far as we know, Gota took over the presidency last November after an opposition landslide. He elected former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as his Prime Minister. Chamal is still a Member of Parliament. Although Basil is out of government, he runs the family political party, the Sri Lanka People’s Front.
A majority in the cabinet and the legislature will not be enough for the Rajapaksas to manipulate their presidency arbitrarily (in addition to significant influence in the military, police, courts and many media). So the Rajapaksas really want a two-thirds majority, not just a parliamentary majority. It could reverse the constitutional changes brought about by the previous government, which curtailed the powers of the president. After the murderous civil war of 1983-2009, the Rajapaksa family’s cancellation of efforts to reconcile various ethnic and religious groups in the country is a matter of concern to 30% of the 21.67 million people in the non – Sinhala Buddhist majority island. Meanwhile, opposition politicians and liberals suspect that attacks on civil liberties during Mahinda’s presidency will double.
Its signs seem to have already begun to emerge. After Gota became president in November, he placed the registration of civilian police and NGOs under the control of the Ministry of Defense. The ministry is headed by a fierce general, while another hardliner is far from the army commander. Both have been charged with war crimes. Human rights activists and journalists say that while disappearances do not occur, intimidation, such as searches and repeated interrogations, is as common as in the bad old days. Tamils are worried about the growing situation. In January, the minister ordered that the national anthem be sung only in Sinhala and no longer in Tamil. The Government formally rescinded the resolution by the Human Rights Council, which had prescribed institutional measures for reconciliation between Tamils and Sinhalese.
Last year, 259 terrorist attacks on churches and hotels by Sri Lankan jihadists killed 259 people, drawing the attention of the weak police and intelligence services and allowing the Rajapaksas to take a more credible stand on security issues. However, it was revealed that the attackers had been paid from a Defense Ministry account during the Rajapaksa regime, but the Rajapaksas remained silent.
“Under the guise of stability, they want to seize all power and restrict public space,” warns Rauf Hakeem, a Muslim parliamentarian and former minister. “It’s like they’re getting ready for a police state.”
Few analysts believe the Rajapakse family will get the expected two-thirds majority. But this is largely linked to a proportional representation system that reflects Sri Lanka’s demographic mix, rather than the appeal or dynamics of the main opposition group, the United National Party. There are divisions between Ranil Wickremesinghe, an experienced but charismatic politician, and a faction led by the more popular but less intelligent Sajith Premadasa, the son of a former president. Mr. Premadasa has formed an alliance with 12 groups. Mr. Wickremesinghe not only refuses to join, but also allows Sajith Premadasa to use the traditional party symbol. “People say, ‘If they can’t run a party, how can they run a country? ” Says columnist and poet Malinda Seneviratne.
Sources: -The Economist
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