Last week, Sri Lanka’s ever-evolving political landscape saw the swearing in of its latest Finance Minister, Basil Rajapaksa. With this appointment, we see four Rajapaksa brothers holding power within Sri Lanka’s current government, a feat that some people see as an unparalleled show of strength in the family’s political ambitions, while others question the sanctity of democracy in such an environment.
Whichever opinion one holds, there is consensus that the political acumen of the Rajapaksa brothers appears to be incomparable, and their unity, seemingly unshakeable.
Basil Rajapaksa is the founder of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the current ruling party, one that was established four years ago as a break-away to the previously powerful Sri Lanka Freedom Part (SLFP). With the emergence of the SLPP as a key actor within the country’s political arena, we see previously mainstream parties such as the United National Party (UNP) and the SLFP take a backseat to governance within the island nation.
Basil Rajapaksa has already spearheaded a number of government initiatives in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and played a major role as a member of the Committee to Combat Covid-19 as well. He is also the head of the Presidential Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation and the Presidential Task Force on Creating a Green Sri Lanka with Sustainable Solutions to Climate Change. Former MP Jayantha Ketagoda resigned his seat earlier this week to make way for Basil Rajapaksa to take it, and go on to become a Cabinet Minister a few days ago. The President of Sri Lanka, his brother, has now entrusted him with the job of salvaging the economy, and the prime minister, his other brother, has given up the Finance Ministry portfolio so that Basil Rajapaksa may execute this role with ease.
Basil Rajapaksa has already spearheaded a number of government initiatives in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic
The Rajapaksa brothers hail from a political family which made an indelible imprint in the heart of people in the South. Their father D.A. Rajapaska, hailing from Giriwapattuwa, was the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. Following the footsteps of their father who played a pivotal role in forming the Sri Lanka Freedom Party with former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Basil Rajapaksa made his debut appearance in the political platform by contesting the Mulkirigala Electorate from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party at the 1977 General Election. Basil Rajapaksa, who was the silent force behind the success of UPFA governments led by his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 and 2010, is touted by his supporters as being capable of driving the country’s economy on the right path, the same way they say he did till their defeat in 2015. He contested the 2010 general election from the Gampaha District and became an MP polling the highest number of preferential votes. Later, he was appointed Minister of Economic Development. He focused on the development of the domestic economy by promoting agriculture. Basil Rajapaksa, as then Minister of Economic Development, succeeded in bringing development to almost all sectors which included tourism, export, agriculture, and industries, raising the annual growth rate of the country above seven percent until 2015. His brothers, Gotabhaya and Mahinda, have done even better, both taking on the role of president and prime minister in the last election that Sri Lanka saw. Chamal Rajapaksa, their eldest brother, currently holds the portfolio for Irrigation and is also the State Minister of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna was the brainchild of the Rajapaksas and captured the ruling power of the country in a short period of four years, all thanks to Basil Rajapaksa’s plans. Rajapaksa supporters state that the formation of the SLPP was the best example of Basil’s political maturity. An overwhelming majority of the common man who supported the SLPP believe that his entry into Parliament is thus timely and essential for the country at this critical juncture. SLPP politicians believe that his political sagacity will be needed to face the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic and the resultant economic downturn. He will be a pillar of strength to the president and the prime minister at this decisive hour. And why wouldn’t he be? Blood is always thicker than water. And family sticks together.
Pakistan is no stranger to dynastic politics, with both the PPP and PMLN being the best and most obvious examples of this. But while our local politicians are held hostage to the ‘naaras’ of “Jiye Bhutto” and “Dekho dekho kaun aya” with little to no reward, the SLPP and their recent cementing of power in less than half a decade just shows us how little the other political parties in Sri Lanka had to offer the common man, and how much confidence and favour resides within the brothers in power. Only time will tell if this secret family recipe for success will make for a delicious national feast, or if too many of the same cooks might end up spoiling the broth.