Addressing Colombo-based foreign correspondents in March 2017, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he was not sure if he would enter politics, since he had never been a politician unlike his seasoned brothers. “But Donald Trump has come from [business]. We have to see,” he said, keeping open what seemed like a small window then.
In less than three years, the former soldier-turned bureaucrat has made his political debut, clinching Presidency.
On Monday, the war-time defence secretary will be sworn in as Sri Lanka’s 7th Executive President , bringing back the Rajapaksa clan — his brother former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was unseated in 2015 — to power once again.
‘Saviour’ who ended war
To many in Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhala-Buddhist community, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, is a “saviour” who spearheaded the military victory over the rebel LTTE a decade ago . Following the Easter terror attacks in April this year, which killed over 250 people, his supporters felt the need for such a “saviour” again.
Mr. Rajapaksa currently faces multiple cases of alleged corruption — charges he has denied — and civil suits in the U.S. for alleged torture of a Tamil, among others, during the Rajapaksa administration that spanned a decade from 2005. He was linked to the murder of a well-known editor in Colombo in 2009, but a U.S. court – where the journalist’s family sought civil action against Mr. Rajapaksa – rejected it citing his “foreign official immunity”.
Like many Sri Lankans, Mr. Rajapaksa held dual citizenship but had to give up his American citizenship in order to run for president. However, critics continue to question his claim of renouncing it, citing US Federal registers. Meanwhile, two Colombo-based activists are legally challenging the validity of his Sri Lankan citizenship as well.
During the final years of the war, Mr. Rajapaksa – along with his other brother Basil Rajapaksa and a senior bureaucrat - was part of a “troika” that held frequent meetings in New Delhi, with senior officials there.
Last year, an influential Buddhist monk famously called Mr. Rajapaksa a “Hitler” who would discipline society, and later his brother Mr. Basil said he would be a “Terminator”, who will end corruption. But after a victory, “I will be President for all Sri Lankans,” Mr. Gotabaya has promised.