Who Are the Rajapaksas?

Who Are the Rajapaksas?

The Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lanka’s politics for much of the past two decades, and in recent years, it had increasingly ran the island nation’s government as a family business.

D.A. Rajapaksa, the family patriarch, was a lawmaker in the 1950s and 60s. But it was Mahinda Rajapaksa, his son, who helped cement the family’s rise to prominence, rising to become prime minister and then a two-term presidency from 2005 to 2015.

During his time as president, Mahinda Rajapaksa ended the country’s three-decade civil war by quashing the Tamil Tigers’ insurgency through brutal military force, in a campaign that led to accusations of widespread human rights abuses. His brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa served his powerful defense secretary.

The Rajapaksas were briefly out of the government after losing in the 2015 elections, but they returned to power with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their presidential candidate in 2019.

He won a resounding victory, in an election campaign that mixed nationalist appeals to the Buddhist Sinhalese, the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, and portrayals of him as the strongman the country needed after the deadly terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday just months before the elections.

Soon after, he brought his elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, back to the government as prime minister and handed key positions to several other members of the family. As the country’s economy appeared to be headed for a crash, he made his brother Basil Rajapaksa the minister of finance last July.

In the face of intensifying protests, President Rajapaksa forced the family members in April to give up their seats in the government.

Officials close to him have said he saw completing his full term as a matter of honor. But opposition members and critics have said the president has also been trying to buy time and ensure the protection of the larger Rajapaksa dynasty.

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