FILE PHOTO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka People’s Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief, with his brothers, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and opposition leader and Chamal Rajapaksa (R) are seen as they leave after handing over nomination papers at the election commission ahead of Sri Lanka’s presidential election, scheduled for November 16 in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 7, 2019. Picture taken October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Two other brothers are political strategists for their Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party and one of them is considering a shot at becoming the speaker in parliament. Three men of the family’s next generation are also in politics.
The Rajapaksas, best known for the brutal defeat of separatist Tamil rebels and then drawing Sri Lanka into China’s orbit when the West and India shunned the Indian Ocean island, are back at the center of the nation’s deeply divisive politics and it is stoking fear.
While there are no formal opinion polls, former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the hot favorite to win the presidential election this Saturday. His chief opponent Sajith Premadasa, a government minister, is seen to be trailing.
Gotabaya led the operations against the Tamil Tigers when his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president. Gotabaya has faced lawsuits in Sri Lanka and in the United States over allegations of staged killings of Tamil separatists, critics and journalists during the war.
Both brothers deny the allegations as part of a Western conspiracy to interfere in the island nation of 22 million that sits astride vital shipping lanes and has long been a tinder-box of tensions between the dominant Sinhalese Buddhists and minority ethnic Tamils. In recent months, Sinhalese hardliners have also targeted the tiny Muslim community.
Mahinda lost the 2015 presidential election to a cabinet colleague who turned against him – Maithripala Sirisena. After his ouster, the family’s fortunes fell into decline.
But Easter Sunday bombings on hotels and churches, in which more than 250 people were killed, derailed Sirisena’s presidency, and he has announced he will not contest this year. The attacks, claimed by Islamic State, have rekindled support for the Rajapaksas and their brand of nationalism.