Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP via Getty Images)
By Chandrashekar Bhat
SRI LANKA’S president Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced Monday (19) that he would stand for a second term, reversing a promise to stay only for five years, media reports said.
The 72-year-old nationalist leader told top media executives that he needed more time to fix Sri Lanka’s worsening economic crisis, the reports said.
During his triumphant 2019 election campaign, Rajapaksa said he would be a one-term president.
He reaffirmed in March last year that one five-year term was sufficient to implement his ambitious manifesto, triggering a succession struggle within the powerful Rajapaksa family that dominates the government.
Elections are not due until 2024, but Rajapaksa now says he needs five more years to implement his “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” manifesto after the economy contracted by a record 3.6 per cent in his first year. The government has banned many imports because of a foreign currency crunch.
Rajapaksa “today declared that he would contest for a second term”, the pro-government The Morning website quoted him as telling media owners.
Other media also reported on the comments, which set off new speculation about the intentions of the ruling family.
The elevation of the president’s youngest brother Basil, 70, as the finance minister earlier this month was widely seen as a move to groom him for presidency.
Basil was thought to have edged out his nephew, Namal, the minister of sports and eldest son of prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, to be the next family leader.
“Another U-turn and maybe this squashes Basil’s chances for the next presidency,” said Jamila Husain, a deputy editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper, on Twitter.
Since his election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has tightened the family grip on power.
With the entry of Basil, the cabinet now has five members of the ruling family.
Eldest brother Chamal, 78, is the minister for irrigation. Several Rajapaksa family members hold junior ministerial positions and other key posts.
Basil was described as “Mr Ten Percent” in a 2007 US embassy cable published by the WikiLeaks organisation, because of commissions he allegedly took from government contracts.
He has denied any wrongdoing and inquiries failed to find any evidence to back charges he siphoned off millions of dollars from state coffers.
Basil is a dual US-Sri Lankan citizen, and Gotabaya removed constitutional provisions which blocked him from standing in a parliamentary election last year.