Sri Lanka is undoubtedly preparing to turn the page in its history marked by the rule of the Rajapaksa. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the last member of the clan to remain in power, is expected to step down on Wednesday 13 July. Pursued Saturday from the presidential palace by a crowd of angry protesters, the man fled under the protection of the army. In the rush, he is said to have left 17.85 million rupees, or about 49,000 euros, in cash. The demonstrators, short of everything for months due to the severe economic and financial crisis that hit the country, handed over brand new tickets to the police.
Several local media suggest that the president is preparing to leave for Dubai. On the morning of Tuesday 12 July, agents of the main international airport of Colombo and passengers allegedly prevented Basil Rajapaksa, former finance minister, from leaving the country.
This humiliating fall of the clan, pushed out of the way, runs counter to its reputation. The Rajapaksa family ruled Sri Lanka with an iron fist from 2005 to 2015, before returning to power in November 2019. The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, nicknamed “the terminator”, had then consecrated the return to family responsibilities. In the wake of the jihadist attacks in April 2019, which claimed the lives of over 250 people, “Gota”, the brothers’ soldier and former defense minister, famous for his ruthless operations against Tamil Tiger guerrillas, had introduced himself as the man capable of facing the country, with its security and economic challenges.
He gradually reinstalled his family in control of the country. Gotabaya’s brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was named prime minister. Another brother, Basil Rajapaksa, nicknamed “Mr. 10%” – referring to the commissions he would receive on public procurement – became finance minister. The eldest of the brothers, Chamal Rajapaksa, received the irrigation wallet. Finally, the new generation has not been forgotten: Namal Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s eldest son, destined one day to take the helm of the country, received the Ministry of Sports and Youth. All of them, including the charismatic Mahinda, have been pressured to step down in recent months in hopes of keeping Gotabaya in power.
“It is absolute nepotism, the Rajapaksa family has appropriated the state”, smoked Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, founder of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a Sri Lankan think tank. The president also promoted an amendment to the constitution that gives him broad powers to appoint and dismiss officials, judges, police, ministers, and oversee independent human rights commissions and anti-corruption efforts. This maneuver was particularly intended to protect him from any investigation into alleged corruption and crimes that may have been committed during the civil war.
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