Meet the Rajapaksas: The Boss, the Terminator, the Bodyguard, and Mr 10%

At the centre of Sri Lanka's economic crisis is the Rajapaksa family, which holds enormous wealth and power.

4 min read
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(This story was originally published on 6 April and is being republished from The Quint's archives in light of fresh unrest being reported from the country with several MPs demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation and huge protests at his residence.)

As the politico-economic crisis in Sri Lanka shows no sign of abating, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday, 29 April, consented to remove Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also his older brother, from the top post.

As per a report by news agency AP, which cites Sri Lankan lawmaker Maithripala Sirisena, the president agreed for the appointment of a national council, which will choose a new prime minister and a Cabinet constituent of all parties in the Parliament.

The move will be a major setback for the Rajapaksa family, which is at the centre of the drama in the islandic country and leads the Sri Lanka People's Front.

The Rajapaksy dynasty is so influential that according to some estimates, it controls around 75 percent of the Sri Lankan government's Budget, as reported by The Times of India.

In this article, we take a peek into how one family has maintained control over the island nation, and what the roles played by the four following brothers are:

  • Mahinda Rajapaksa

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa

  • Basil Rajapaksa

  • Chamal Rajapaksa


Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Boss

The 76-year-old is known to be the current boss of the Rajapaksa dynasty.

Prior to his presidency, he was the labour minister (1994-2001) and minister of fisheries and aquatic resources (1997-2001) under President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Kumaratunga had then appointed him as the prime minister after winning the 2004 parliamentary elections.

He served as the president of Sri Lanka from 2005 to 2015. His popularity peaked when his government defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending a civil war that had gone on for three decades.

Mahinda Rajapaksa rode on that victory to get re-elected with a comfortable margin in 2010.

On 9 September 2010, the Sri Lankan Parliament amended the constitution to remove presidential term limits, allowing Mahinda to run for a third term.

His three brothers – Gotabaya, Basil, and Chamal – were given power and influence within the government, leading to accusations of nepotism.

During his tenure, he signed several infrastructure deals with China, which led India and the US to voice their concerns about Sri Lanka getting sucked into Beijing's orbit.

Mahinda, however, lost the 2015 presidential election to Maithripala Sirisena, but then became the prime minister after his brother, Gotabaya, won the presidential election in 2019 and appointed him as the caretaker PM until the parliamentary elections in 2020.

After winning the 2020 parliamentary elections, he officially became prime minister once again.

His critics have warned that he has the traits of a dictator, often citing his policies that suppress the media and crush dissent in the country.

Mahinda's government's treatment of Sri Lanka's Tamils has also been routinely criticized by human rights groups.


Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the 'Terminator'

Before entering Sri Lankan politics, Gotabaya was in the United States as a systems integrator.

Then, in 2005, he came back to Sri Lanka and was appointed the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence in November 2005 by his brother, the newly elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

As permanent secretary, he was in charge of the military campaign that defeated the LTTE in May 2009.

Although he had denied it, there were widespread reports of torture, rape, and killing of Tamil rebels and civilians during the final months of the civil war.

Concerns about Gotabaya Rajapaksa's nepotism and centralisation of power are similar to that of his brother. He is nicknamed the 'terminator' by his own family members due to his fiery temper.

He became the president in 2019 and made himself the defence minister, a few months after his appointment.

One of the most controversial moves of his presidency was pushing the 20th Amendment, passed in October 2020, which enhances the executive powers of the Sri Lankan president.

It allows the president to dissolve Parliament whenever they want to, appoint a prime minister of their choice, along with judges and heads of "independent commissions."

Due to the law, the parliament can only debate these appointments. It cannot restrict them.

Additionally, his policy of abandoning chemical fertilisers and switching to organic farming made agricultural production and export earnings from tea plummet. Farmers are yet to receive the monetary compensation promised by Gotabaya's administration.


Basil Rajapaksa, 'Mr Ten Percent'

The youngest brother, Basil Rajapaksa, was the finance minister of the country until he was sacked by his own brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Monday, 4 April.

He was already a controversial figure due to his dual citizenship, and his place in Parliament was secured only because a constitutional barrier preventing dual citizenship holders from the same was removed.

He had served as a minister for economic development under the presidency of Mahinda.

Basil was arrested on corruption charges in 2015 after the Sirisena government came to power, after being accused of "misappropriation" of state funds in a construction case.

He is nicknamed "Mr Ten Percent" over the allegations of him taking commissions from state contracts.


Chamal Rajapaksa, the 'Bodyguard' 

Chamal Rajapaksa served as Speaker of Parliament when Mahinda was president.

He is also an ex-police officer who served as a bodyguard for the Ceylon Police Force as a Sub-Inspector for eight years, and is nicknamed the 'bodyguard' because he once served as a personal bodyguard to Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first female prime minister of the world.

Chamal is a former minister of shipping and aviation and currently holds the irrigation portfolio.

He also works in the Defence Ministry under Gotabaya, and is probably the least controversial of the four powerful Rajapaksa brothers.

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Topics:  Sri Lanka Crisis 

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