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Sri Lankan politics

Wickremesinghe is protecting the Rajapaksa clan in Sri Lanka

Ranil Wickremesinghe used to be an opponent of the Rajapaksa clan. Nonetheless, he was made prime minister by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa earlier this year and, in July, became his successor as head of state.
Ranil Wickremesinghe (left) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa in May 2022, when the former became prime minister. Ranil Wickremesinghe (left) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa in May 2022, when the former became prime minister.

Protests had forced Gotabaya to resign and flee abroad – but his successor has helped him return to Sri Lanka to a comfortable life.

Since becoming head of state, Wickremesinghe has clamped down on protests. Moreover, he is protecting Gotabaya’s family. Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda is another former president and prime minister, and several other siblings have held high government offices. It was during the presidencies of Mahinda and Gotabaya that the nation’s sovereign debt multiplied, leading to the current economic turmoil (see main story).

Wickremesinghe belongs to the United National Party, but the parliamentary majority that made him president included the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is dominated by the Rajapaksas. In the eyes of Arjuna Parakrama of the University of Peradeniya, the new president is now protecting his predecessors’ clan in three ways:

  • guarding them and their allies from the wrath of the people,
  • shielding them from legal prosecution for corruption and other crimes and
  • preventing new elections so the SLPP majority in parliament can keep power for another two and a half years before its term expires.

The professor says that new elections now would certainly wipe away the SLPP.

Wickremesinghe would be likely to lose as well. He has served as prime minister several times, and has also run for president. Many considered him a spent force after his party won only a single seat in the parliamentary election of 2020.

Wickremesinghe has even facilitated Gotabaya’s return from exile, setting him up at a luxury mansion in a fancy neighbourhood in Colombo, the capital city. That privilege is usually granted to heads of state after completing their term.

Arjuna Ranawana is a Sri Lankan journalist.

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