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Ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa becomes prime minister and finance minister, another becomes agriculture minister

Sri Lankas new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has begun concentrating power within his own powerful family, appointing one brother Mahinda as both prime minister and finance minister and another brother as minister of agriculture.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the candidate for the SLPP, the Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalist party, won an overwhelming victory in Sri Lankas presidential polls last weekend.

His win marked a return to power for the Rajapaksa family, which has been one of the most dominant political dynasties in Sri Lanka for over a decade. Their previous time in power was marked by human rights abuses, disappearances and a stranglehold over the judiciary and police.

His brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president from 2005 to 2015, with Gotabaya serving as his secretary of defence.

Due to a law introduced by the previous government, Mahinda could not run for another term as president, so Gotabaya was put forward as the candidate. However, suggestions that Mahinda, the more charismatic and popular of the pair, would remain the de facto leader of government were realised this week when he was sworn in as both prime minister and finance minister, two of the most powerful political posts. He was also given the departments of Buddhist, cultural and religious affairs and urban development, water supply and housing.

The previous prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, resigned the day after the election when the candidate for his UNP party, Sajith Premadasa, lost to Rajapaksa.

Another Rajapaksa brother, Chamal, a legislator, was sworn in as the minister of agriculture, irrigation, internal trade, and consumer welfare. Meanwhile Basil, another brother, will continue to play a powerful role behind the scenes as chief strategist.

The appointments pave the way for a similar concentration of power into the hands of the Rajapaksa family which occurred when Mahinda was president. At the time it gave the brothers the power to act with complete impunity, exercise control over the courts and condone a campaign of intimidation and violence against journalists and critics. There are multiple court cases relating to corruption and torture pending against both Gotabaya and Basil.

However, many in Sri Lanka were not opposed to the appointment of Mahinda as prime minister, arguing it would prevent the failures of communication between the president and prime minister which occurred under the previous government, which caused the destabilisation and disintegration of government. Ultimately poor communication was blamed for a failure to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings, which saw over 250 people killed in April in suicide attacks carried out by self-radicalised Islamists.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/22/sri-lankas-president-rajapaksa-cements-family-power-as-brothers-join-cabinet