Four members of Rajapaksa family find place in Sri Lanka cabinet
Two more members of Rajapaksa family join the Cabinet along with President Gotabaya and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday named two more of his relatives to the new cabinet, further consolidating his family’s grip on power.
The 26 cabinet members include four members of Rajapaksa family with the president retaining the defence ministry while his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, bagged the finance, urban development and Buddhist affairs ministries.
Eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa is irrigation minister and while Mahinda’s son Namal Rajapaksa is the youth and sports minister.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 71, became president in November last year and named Mahinda, a 74-year-old former president, as caretaker prime minister.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the defence minister under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, during which the government forces defeated the Tamil rebels, ending nearly three decades of conflict.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party – led by the Rajapaksas – won 145 of the 225 seats in the parliament.
The party secured nearly 60 percent, or more than 6.85 million, of the total valid votes, well ahead of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party, which came in second with 54 seats.
Voting in the general election was held last week on Wednesday to elect Sri Lanka’s ninth parliament.
The Mahinda-led cabinet is expected to hold its first meeting on Thursday to discuss proposals for constitutional changes and the new budget.
The growing dynastic imprint was strengthened by one of their nephews, Shasheendra Rajapaksa, who joined the government as a state agriculture minister, though he will not be in the cabinet.
President Rajapaksa also appointed his lawyer as justice minister.
Ali Sabry appeared for Gotabaya when he faced court cases related to corruption as a top defence bureaucrat during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time as president.
Pursuing a nationalist agenda, their party has won a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which allows them to change the constitution and tighten their hold on power.
The brothers want to scrap a 2015 constitutional amendment that transferred some executive powers from the president to the prime minister, along with independent institutions to run public services and the judiciary.
The swearing-in of ministers was carried out at the Temple of the Tooth, the holiest Buddhist shrine, in the presence of saffron-robed monks and other guests in Kandy, 115 kilometres (71 miles) east of Colombo.
The venue was carefully chosen to reinforce the Rajapaksa family’s appeal to their majority Sinhala-Buddhist constituency.
The president took his oath after his November landslide in front of a pagoda built by a legendary Sinhala king known to have vanquished a rival from the minority Tamil community.
Mahinda was sworn in as Prime Minister on Sunday at the Kelaniya temple which Buddhists in Sri Lanka believe to have been visited by the Buddha himself.