June 9, 2022

Sri Lanka president’s brother resigns from parliament amid crisis

Basil Rajapaksa is the second from the influential family to step away from government amid a severe economic crisis.

Basil Rajapaksa, the brother of Sri Lanka’s president and the country’s former finance minister, says he has resigned from parliament, the second politician from the influential family to step away from government amid a severe economic crisis.

“From today I will not be involved in any government activities but I cannot and will not step away from politics,” Rajapaksa told reporters on Thursday.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister last month after prolonged protests against the economic crisis turned deadly. Mahinda remains a member of parliament.

The three Rajapaksa siblings have been key players in Sri Lankan politics for decades, but are blamed by protesters who have taken to the streets in their thousands in recent months for mishandling the island nation’s economy.

Infighting between the brothers also played a part in Sri Lanka’s slide into turmoil but Basil Rajapaksa is likely to retain influence.

Sri Lanka Protest
Sri Lankan protesters dressed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, right, and his brothers, Basil, left, and ex-PM Mahinda during a protest against the economic crisis in Colombo [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are suffering the country’s most serious financial turmoil in 70 years, with severe shortages of fuel, medicines and other essentials amid record inflation and a devaluation of its currency. A severe lack of foreign exchange has stalled imports.

New Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is leading efforts to find a way out of the crisis, with negotiations underway with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan programme and support from friendly countries, including India and China.

However, with only one seat is parliament, Wickremesinghe is dependent on the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, which Basil has helped rebuild into a political force.

“BR will continue to remain a force in Sri Lankan politics regardless of not being a MP,” said Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at the Colombo think-tank Centre for Policy Analysis, referring to Basil by his initials.

“The question is how much influence or control he has over the SLPP,” Fonseka said.

The SLPP and its coalition partners have a comfortable majority in the 225-seat legislature, and several sources have previously told Reuters news agency that members of the ruling party remain loyal to Basil.

Basil, 70, served as finance minister between July, 2021 and April this year and is a prominent political strategist. He was called “Mr 10 Percent” in a BBC interview in reference to commissions he allegedly took from government contracts.

Subsequent administrations failed to prove any charges he siphoned millions of dollars from state coffers. All cases against him had been dropped since Gotabaya became president.

The veteran politician, however, denied he had failed to slow Sri Lanka’s descent into financial turmoil.

“I was the person to send the first letter to the IMF after becoming finance minister. It is the work I started that is now being taken forward,” he said. “I have no regrets.”

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