Who’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President Who Fled, Leaving Sri Lanka in a Mess?
The embattled president had fled a day before protesters stormed his residence.
(This copy was published on 11 July 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives to mark the official resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president.)
Hours after thousands of “Gota Go” protesters stormed into Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence in Colombo on Saturday, 9 July, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene announced that the president had informed him that he would resign on 13 July, as it became clear as daylight that Lankans who had once supported the 'Terminator’, could no longer bear the island nation’s economic crisis.
Rajapaksa had fled from his residence a day before the protest and is said to have fled the country itself as Sri Lanka goes through its worst economic crisis since Independence in 1948.
Sri Lanka's main Opposition parties said on Sunday, that they would form an interim coalition government after the president's proposed resignation on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there's still no confirmation about the embattled president's whereabouts.
So, Who Is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa?
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the seventh executive president in 2019, replacing Maithripala Sirisena, becoming the first elected president with a military background, having served as a career military officer during the 26-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka.
Before entering Sri Lankan politics, Gotabaya worked in the United States as a systems integrator.
In 2005, he came back to Sri Lanka and was appointed the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence by his brother, the newly elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He remained the wartime defense secretary until the end of the war in 2009 against the separatist militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the brothers were projected as heroes among the nearly 16 million Sinhala Buddhist population.
Reports of the torture, rape, and killing of Tamil rebels and civilians during the final months of the civil war were widespread and vehemently denied.
Concerns about Gotabaya’s nepotism and centralisation of power are similar to that of his brother. In fact, he was nicknamed the 'Terminator' by his own family members due to his fiery temper.
One of the most controversial moves of his presidency was pushing the 20th Amendment, passed in October 2020, which enhanced the executive powers of the Sri Lankan president.
It also allowed the president to dissolve Parliament whenever they wanted to, appoint a prime minister of their choice, along with judges and heads of "independent commissions."
Due to the law, the Parliament could only debate these appointments. It could not restrict them.
What’s Next for Sri Lanka?
Leaders of different political parties in the country are expected to meet on Monday afternoon to speak on convening Parliament for the transition of power.
As per Sri Lanka's Constitution, the incumbent PM would be appointed the acting president for a certain period of time, until Parliament holds a vote to appoint a new president.
PM Wickremesinghe had also expressed his willingness to step down when a new government comes to power.
In that case, the Speaker would become the president until a new one is chosen.
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