Sri Lankan former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not the only Rajapaksa who is to be blamed for driving the country to the worst crisis, Srilanka has ever witnessed. The Rajapaksa family held an affluent position in Sri Lanka polity for the past two decades. During Gotabaya’s presidential tenure, posts of importance like Prime Minister, and Finance Minister were held by Mahinda Rajapaksa & Basil Rajapaksa respectively, brothers of this former President.
Amidst the controversy, Gotabaya removed his close relatives from the cabinet to pacify the fuming protesters to no avail. After the tumultuous crowd barged at his residence, Gotabay was found missing. The president fled & took refuge in the Maldives along with his wife and two security officials. Before looking at the events which led to Mr Rajpaksa fleeing, let us first know more about the Rajapaksa family and the former President himself.
About Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the 7th Executive president of Sri Lanka, elected on 18th November 2019, before, he was a former military officer and also served as Secretary to the Ministry of Defense under his brother’s Presidential tenure.
Rajapaksa joined Ceylon Army in 1971 as a cadet officer. Rajapaksa was awarded Rana Wickrama and Rana Sura medals for gallantry. During his military career, he took part in Operation Liberation, which freed Vadamarachchi from LTTE.
Rise to political fame
In 2005, after Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as the president, he was appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense.
Mr Gotabaya contested the Presidential Election in 2019 for the Podujana Party. He was elected as the 7th president of Sri Lanka by the general public with a margin of more than 130K votes. His manifesto about urban development, environment, education, technology and foreign affairs gained him popularity and the public of Sri Lanka was hopeful for a better future for the nation.
Controversy around Gotabaya
Mr Gotabaya was surrounded by controversies even before he served as President. After the war with LTTE, he was subjected to controversies about human rights violations (To end the war against Tamil separatists, it is alleged that as many as 100,000 people were killed before a cease-fire in 2009.). Two lawsuits were filed against him in the United States that accused him of involvement in the kidnap and murder of a journalist, as well as being complicit in the torture of a man belonging to the ethnic Tamil community.
Rajapaksa Family & Political ties
Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Prime Minister in 2004 and was president from 2005 to 2015. Gotabaya appointed him as the Prime Minister during his Presidential tenure. He was investigated over financial losses incurred by the state-run Independent Television Network (ITN) by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC).
Basil Rajapaksa was the Minister for Economic Development during President Mahinda Rajapaksa's second term (2010–2015). He was Financial Minister during Gotabaya’s presidency. He was surrounded by corruption scandals.
Chamal Rajapaksa was speaker of parliament when Mahinda was President. He held the irrigation portfolio under Gotabaya’s presidential rule, Gotabaya’s niece Namal Rajapaksa was appointed as minister for sports and youth but he also resigned.
Other close family relatives of the Rajapaksa family also held high posts. Rajapaksa family stirred controversy for nepotism not only during Gotabaya’s Presidential tenure but also during Mahinda’s Presidency.
Gotabaya removed his two other brothers and nephew from the Cabinet when the crisis worsened but kept his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as prime minister but Mahinda also resigned after the mass fuming public protested against his position.
Series of catastrophe decisions
Massive tax cuts- led to a massive drop in government revenue. The problem was exacerbated by a drop in the tourism industry because of Covid.
Shifting to organic farming- Despite the policy announced in April 2021, the farmers to date complain about not receiving training or equipment to deal with organic farming.
Printing notes - the government printed money, boosting supply by 42% between December 2019 and August 2021 which led to the all-time high inflation, Sri Lanka has ever witnessed.
With the pandemic worsening the problem & ill advised decision of tax cuts, Sri Lanka was pushed into the worst economic crisis. The country is facing shortages of essential goods, and rampant inflation which made thousands of people march onto the streets for months to protest.
Protesters barged into Gotabaya Rajapaksa's residence and also set fire to Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s home. Gotabaya then stepped down from the President’s position.
While the entire blame cannot be pinned solely on the Rajapaksa family, given the fact that the country was already piled in debt before Gotabaya took the position of President, it cannot be denied that things turned worse because of the poor decisions taken by the man on ill advice by his team. The Sri Lankan crisis is the classic case of misgovernance and how nepotism and incompetency can lead to such destructive outcome. Currently, Inflation is running at more than 50%, power cuts are common phenomena and the country is facing a situation where they cannot fulfil the demand for medicines, bringing the health system to the verge of collapse.
As of now, an emergency has been declared in the country, and the current prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe will act in the president's stead in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution; if the President resigns, the prime minister is considered the president's deputy in parliament. However, the public doesn’t want Mr Wickremesinghe in the official position either.