Former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has unofficially launched his bid to run for the presidency at the 2019 elections with a ceremony at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.
Political sources said Rajapaksa had invited his three politically active brothers as guests of what he called the launch his 2030 vision for Sri Lanka.
In a 25-minute address in Sinhala, the former defence chief spoke of Sri Lanka needing a “socialist, market-economy” while protecting the sovereignty and the culture of the island.
He also spoke of economic reforms and warned that a “window of opportunity” will not be open for ever. He lamented that Sri Lanka was still dependent on traditional exports and lacked high-value added industrial exports.
The meeting came in the backdrop of an internal power struggle within the Rajapaksa family where younger brother Basil had hoped to be the presidential candidate in 2019.
Basil established his credentials by leading his newly formed SLPP to victory at the February local elections. In contrast, Gotabhaya was completely out of the election campaign of the SLPP.
Several allies of the SLFP, including Vasudeva Nanayakkara, has asked former president Rajapaksa’s eldest brother Chamal to be a compromise candidate.
It was not immediately clear if the charismatic former president would support Chamal over Gotabhaya or Basil, but insiders say he was also keen on making a return to power.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was banking on the national unity government changing the constitution and reverting the country to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy so that he could return as an executive prime minister.
Gotabhaya has a legal hurdle if he wants to enter public life. Under the 19th amendment, no dual-citizen of Sri Lanka can contest elections. However, he could renounce his US citizenship to enter local politics.