Less than a week after his election win, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swore in his elder brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Prime Minister on Thursday.
Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, 74, replaces Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who quit following his party candidate Sajith Premadasa’s poll defeat despite having a parliamentary majority. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the premier in a caretaker government until general elections due next year.
Modi reaches out
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to wish his new Sri Lankan counterpart. “Congratulations and best wishes to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. I look forward to working closely with him for further strengthening fraternal India-Sri Lanka ties,” he said in a tweet, soon after Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa took oaths. “Thank you Prime Minister @narendramodi. Let us continue to promote our shared partnership for peace and prosperity for both our countries and the region,” Prime Minister Rajapaksa replied in a tweet.
Other regional leaders too wished Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa on his new role. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan telephoned him , while Nepal PM K.P. Sharma Oli tweeted his wishes. Speaker and former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted: “Delighted to see my old friend @PresRajapaksa sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new PM. Look forward to working with you again!”.
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, won the November 16 presidential election with a clear majority. The former military man-turned bureaucrat’s ascent to the country’s most powerful office marked the return of the Rajapaksas to the helm, five years after Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in the 2015 presidential election. However, as the seventh Executive President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa will have to share power with the Prime Minister, due to a 2015 legislation — the 19th Amendment — that clipped presidential powers and empowered Parliament, effectively creating two power centres.
In a statement following his brother’s poll victory, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa said this presidential election differed from previous polls, citing “the complications in the system of governance” brought about by the 19th Amendment. “We will be studying the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and planning our immediate programme of action accordingly,” he said.
UNP in disarray
Meanwhile Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) found itself in disarray as members in two camps — backing Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Premadasa — clashed on the choice of Leader of Opposition from the party. UNP sources told The Hindu that General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam wrote to the Speaker, requesting him to name Mr. Wickremesinghe as Opposition Leader, while over 40 MPs backing Mr. Premadasa wrote to the Speaker, asking him to appoint Mr. Premadasa to the post.