The rise and growth of “political families” is a common occurrence in Sri Lanka. Ever since the Island known formerly as Ceylon gained limited forms of representative democracy through the Legislative and State Councils during British rule, the practice of members of the same family seeking posts through elections became widely prevalent. The advent of Parliamentary elections coupled with freedom from colonial bondage saw the political dynasty phenomenon gain further mileage. Political families began proliferating at multiple levels from local authorities to the supreme legislature.
Family politics is now a familiar feature of Sri Lanka’s political landscape cutting across race, religion, caste and creed. A perusal of a list of Sri Lankan political families in alphabetical order starting from the Abdul Majeeds of the East and going down to the Yapa Abeywardenas of the South would reveal that ethnicity is no bar to political family bandyism in Sri Lanka.
There are various types of political dynasties at different levels from the national, provincial, divisional and electoral level. There are also different degrees of pedigree and vintage in these dynasties. While there are many regional and sub-regional political families , there have been only three major family formations dominating politics at a national level so far in Sri Lanka. The first is the “Bothale Dynasty” of D. S. Senanayake, his son Dudley Senanayake and nephew Sir John Kotelawala along with extended family members J. R. Jayewardene and Ranil Wickremesinghe. The next is the ” Horagolla Dynasty” of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, his wife Sirimavo Ratwatte Bandaranaike, Daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and son Anura Bandaranaike.Interestingly Chandrika’s husband Vijaya Kumaratunga though an actor was also a politician. Both the Bothale and Horagolla dynastie have been paramount in 20th century Sri Lankan politics since Independence. However a third political family that came into its own in the 21st century has de-throned one dynasty and threatens to send the other dynasty into virtual extinction.This of course is the “Medamulana Dynasty” comprising the family members of D.A. Rajapaksa – Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers Chamal, Basil and Gotabhaya along with son Namal and nephew Shasheendra.
Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa
Although the Ruhunu Rajapaksa family has been in politics for several decades starting from the days of the State Council, their ascendancy to the pinnacle of power came only in the new millennium. This became possible only after Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa, known to his country and the world at large as Mahinda Rajapaksa, became Sri Lanka’s fifth Executive President on November 18th 2005. Thereafter the Rajapaksas established themselves rapidly as the ‘numero uno’ family in Sri Lankan politics. Apart from Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, family members and extended family members monopolised plum positions. Various posts in different spheres – from defence secretary to diplomatic representative – were held by the clan. Some were elected to office while others were appointed. Some proved their capability by efficiently discharging their duties while others failed miserably demonstrating the negativity of nepotism.
During the days of the Rajapaksa regime it was an open secret that no major enterprise or project could be undertaken in the island without the blessings of at least one Rajapaksa. In those days most movers and shakers in Sri Lankan society derived their power and energy from the Rajapaksa “generator”. Opposition members alleged then that nearly 70% of the National Budget was controlled directly by the Rajapaksa siblings. Family bandyism in the Sirima Bandaranaike Government of 1970-’77 was aptly pinpointed through a UNP publication ‘The Family Tree’. If a similar exercise was undertaken about the Rajapaksa regime, it would not have been a mere family tree but an entire grove.
The Rajapaksas of yore were not born with the proverbial silver spoons in their mouths. A number of factors resulted in their rise to power. How the Rajapaksas of Ruhunu achieved pride of place as the foremost political family in contemporary Sri Lanka is a fascinating story. The underlying thread in this narative is the monumental political journey of Mahinda Rajapaksa culminating in becoming the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It is a tale told before but is worth relating here again. This article would therefore focus on the “Ruhunu Rajapaksas” in general and “Medamulana Mahinda” in particular.
The rise of the Rajapaksas as a formidable political family in the Ruhunu began with Don David Vidanarachchi Rajapaksa, the grandfather of Mahinda and siblings and the great grandfather of their offspring. Don David Rajapaksa hailed from Buddhiyagama in Weeraketiya in the Southern Hambantota District. The ancient Ruhunu kingdom of the Sinhala kings consisted of what are today the Administrative Districts of Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Moneragala. Don David or D.D. Rajapaksa was the hereditary Vidane Arachchi or village headman of a cluster of villages and hamlets known as ‘Ihala Valikada Korale’.
The semi-feudal practice of village headman adopted by the British has now been replaced by the Grama Niladari system. The Grama Niladaris of today are toothless Government employees whereas the Vidane Arachi of colonial vintage was a potty despot of his area of authority. The area inhabited by the Rajapaksa family was the division known as Giruweva/Giruwapattuwa. It was an agricultural region where the growing of crops and vegetables, coconut cultivation and buffalo/cattle rearing were the basis of the local economy. ‘Slash and burn’ chena cultivation was a fact of life. Cultivation of kurakkan or millet was widely prevalent and the region was regarded generally as ‘Kurakkan Country’.
In the latter half of the 19th century an enterprising southerner from Sapugoda, Galle arrived in Giruwapattuwa. Don Constantine De Silva Waniga Chintamani Mohotti Ralahamy was his name. Known generally as Mohotti Ralahamy, this entrepreneur purchased lands in Giruwapattuwa and began adopting comparatively modern techniques in agriculture. One of his new methods was to hire agricultural workers on a daily wage basis. Mohotti Ralahamy needed a trusted and able man from the locality to supervise the workers and oversee cultivation. The reality of prevailing caste and regional differences meant that only a man from the area could handle the task. What better man than the Vidane Ralahamy of Ihala Valikada Korale?
Thus began a partnership where Mohotti gave a share of the profits to D.D. Rajapaksa as remuneration. Invigorated by this project, D.D. Rajapaksa also began leasing farm lands in the region owned by some rich Muslims from Galle. D.D. Rajapaksa and his sons were models of incorruptibility. They were diligently honest and did not fleece the absentee partners or landlords. Over a period of time the Rajapaksa family acquired more paddy lands and coconut plantations of their own The family also ventured into dairy farming and raised cattle and buffaloes.
D.D. Rajapaksa had three sons and a daughter. The eldest was Don Coronelis Rajapaksa or D.C. Rajapaksa, who served as coroner of the area. The second son was Don Mathew Rajapaksa while the youngest son was Don Alvin Rajapaksa. The direct entry into electoral politics was made by Don Mathew Rajapaksa or D.M. Rajapaksa who was elected State Councillor during British times. He was succeeded as State Councillor by younger brother Don Alvin Rajapaksa or D.A. Rajapaksa, who later became a Member of Parliament after Independence.
D.M. Rajapaksa’s sons Lakshman and George Rajapaksa became MPs in the post-Independence period. George Rajapaksa served as a Cabinet Minister also. His daughter Nirupama also became an MP and served as a Deputy Minister. D.A. Rajapaksa’s sons Chamal, Mahinda and Basil also became Parliamentarians like their father. The sons and grandsons of D.A.Rajapaksa held powerful positions when the family enjoyed the zenith of political power. As is well known, Mahinda was President, Chamal was Speaker and Basil a Cabinet Minister. Mahinda’s son Namal was an influential MP while Chamal’s son Shasheendra was the Chief Minister of the Uva Province. Mahinda’s younger brother Gotabhaya did not enter active politics at that time. However he held the post of Defence and Urban Development ministry secretary and was regarded as the second most powerful person in the country then.
The disproportionately powerful expansion and rise of the Rajapaksas during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency created an impression in some circles that they were ‘Johnnies-come-lately’. This impression was not correct. The Giruwapattuwa Rajapaksas had been involved in politics from the time S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike entered the State Council in 1931. The Rajapaksas are an old and respected Southern Province Govigama family. They have deep Buddhist roots and were wedded to the land. Unlike some other eminent Sinhala families who obtained posts and perks from the colonial masters, the Rajapaksas of Giruwapattuwa remained sturdily independent.
The finest example of that sturdy independence and anti-colonial spirit was D.M. Rajapaksa, known popularly as the ‘Lion of Ruhunu’. When universal suffrage was introduced and elections to the State Council were held in 1931, D.M. Rajapaksa supported V.S. Wickramanayake in the Hambantota Constituency. Wickramanayake was elected. In 1936 D.M. Rajapaksa himself plunged directly into politics and faced hustings. In those days candidates used different colours for their respective ballot boxes. D.M. chose brown, the colour of kurakkan, to symbolise ‘Kurakkan Country’. He won with a majority of 12,097 votes.
Don Mathew Rajapaksa was a man of the people. He gave voice to the oppressed and stood up for the underprivileged. He did much for the emancipation of the Rodiya community. Though the British were the rulers at that time, the ‘Ruhunu Sinhaya’ would brook no nonsense from pompous bureaucrats. Once he slippered the English Government Agent for being callously indifferent. It was D.M. Rajapaksa who first started the practice of wearing a kurakkan-coloured shawl to symbolise Giruwapattuwa. This was followed by his brother and later his sons. The ‘sataka’ worn by the Rajapaksas of today is not merely due to notions of sartorial elegance. The practice has deeper meaningful roots.
Unfortunately D.M. Rajapaksa died at the age of 49 in 1945. His eldest son Lakshman had not even reached the voting age of 21 then. The mantle therefore fell on his unassuming younger brother Don Alvin Rajapaksa. Their father D.D. Rajapaksa had died in 1912. While D.M. Rajapaksa had taken to social service and politics, his brother D.A. Rajapaksa had tended to look after the family occupation of farming and livestock breeding. The elder brother lived at the Mahagedara in Kondagala and the younger at the Medamulana Mahagedara.
After D.M. Rajapaksa’s demise the people of Giruwapattuwa wanted D.A. Rajapaksa to step into his brother’s shoes. D.M. Rajapaksa’s sons Lakshman and George were too young then. The simple D.A., content with his agriculture, refused. Finally a deputation of notables went in procession to the paddy field where D.A. was engaged in ploughing. The delegation had with them the nomination papers and pressed D.A. to replace his brother in the State Council. Finally Don Alvin agreed. He washed the mud off his hands and legs and signed the nomination papers, whereupon one person removed his shawl and wrapped it around D.A. Rajapaksa in a symbolic gesture. The kurakkan sataka tradition continued.
Don Mathew Rajapaksa
D.A. Rajapaksa was elected unopposed to the State Council representing the Hambantota constituency on 14 July 1945. His second son and third child Mahinda Rajapaksa was born a few months later in Weeraketiya on 18 November 1945. According to former Parliamentary Secretary -General and ex-Ombudsman Sam Wijesinha, the feeling among many rural villagers then was that Don Mathew Rajapaksa had been reborn as Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sam Wijesinha who hailed from Getamana close to Medamulana knew the Rajapaksa and also the Atapattu families well. I recall Sam Wijesinha telling me that Mahinda was more like his uncle D.M. Rajapaksa in spirit and temperament. Both were aggressively fierce in political approach and had empathy for the underdog, he said. Wijesinha said that Chamal Rajapaksa was more like his father D.A. Rajapaksa in looks and outlook. Both were mild-mannered, unambitious persons. Judging by his steady rise in politics and fearless demeanour, it appears that Mahinda has to some extent taken after the paternal uncle whom he never saw.
D.M. Rajapaksa’s sons, Lakshman and George, entered politics later. Lakshman, an ebullient person with an abiding love for the south, was a maverick. Lakshman won the then Hambantota constituency in 1947 as an independent and in 1952 on the LSSP ticket. In 1956 he won on the MEP ticket and became Deputy Minister. In 1960 March, Lakshman won Tissamaharama on the MEP ticket. In 1960 July he won the same on the SLFP ticket. He lost in 1965 and 70 but in 1976 he re-entered Parliament again as an SLFPer in the Mulkirigala by-election caused by his brother George’s death. George Rajapaksa won Mulkirigala in March (MEP) and July 1960 and in ’65 and ’70 on the SLFP ticket. He was Fisheries and Health Minister in the 1970 Government but like his father died young at the age of 50 in 1976. His daughter Nirupama has been in Parliament from 1994 to 2000 and from 2005 to 2015. In 2005 she succeeded Mahinda in Parliament when he became President. Nirupama has served as a Deputy Minister.
D.A. Rajapaksa was an old student of Richmond College Galle and was well-versed in English. He captained the Soccer Team and was Vice Captain of the Cricket Team. It is said that the ground record he set up in the match with Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa, still stands. Yet he had no qualms about becoming a full-fledged agriculturist. When he entered the State Council and took his oaths on 8 August 1945, he became a member of the Executive Committee on Agriculture and Lands. Mahinda’s father D.A. Rajapaksa represented the Beliatta seat in Parliament from 1947 to 1965 with a short break in 1960 March when he lost to D.P. Atapattu of the UNP. D.A. Rajapaksa lost in 1965 to D.P. Attapattu again. D.A. Rajapaksa won Beliatta on the UNP ticket in 1947 and thereafter on the SLFP ticket till ’65.
Don Alvin Rajapaksa was a faithful deputy of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who crossed over from the UNP to SLFP on 12 July 1951. When SWRD crossed over, five others (A.P. Jayasooriya, George R. de Silva, Jayaweera Kuruppu, D.S. Goonesekera and D.A. Rajapaksa) were supposed to follow suit, but when the moment came, only D.A. Rajapaksa crossed the floor behind Bandaranaike like his faithful shadow. The others got cold feet to cross over in the House but did so later. On 2 September 1951, the SLFP was formed. D.A. was one of the 44 signatories giving notice of the formation of the SLFP. In the 1952 May elections, the fledgling SLFP won nine seats. D.A. Rajapaksa was one of the nine victors.
In spite of these impressive credentials and loyalty, D.A. Rajapaksa was not a cabinet minister in the 1956 Cabinet or 1960 July Cabinet. Initially I thought that D.A. Rajapaksa had been deprived of his rightful due in the SLFP despite his loyalty. But I learnt later that this was due to D.A. Rajapaksa’s simplicity, lack of ambition, love of his roots and abhorrence for the trappings of power. These characteristics of D.A. Rajapaksa contrast sharply with the conduct of some of his descendants when they were ensconced in the corridors of power.
Don Alvin Rajapaksa
In 1956, S.W.R.D. offered D.A. any Cabinet post other than the one to be given to C.P. de Silva, but D.A. declined firmly and only wanted nephew Lakshman to be given a deputy minister’s post, so Lakshman was made Deputy to Trade and Commerce Minister R.G. Senanayake. But the people of Hambantota under the leadership of Tangalle lawyer Wickramasuriya protested strongly to S.W.R.D. and D.A. So a reluctant Don Alvin Rajapaksa was forced to be Deputy Minister of Land, Irrigation and Agriculture under C.P. de Silva. During Wijayananda Dahanayake’s short-lived Cabinet after S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s assassination on 26 September 1959, D.A. Rajapaksa was Minister of Agriculture and Lands. He resigned in two weeks on 10 October to pre-empt dismissal by the eccentric Dahanayake who was sacking his ministers en masse and appointing fresh ministers.
In July 1960 Mrs. Bandaranaike became Premier and offered a Cabinet portfolio to D.A. Rajapaksa, who declined it. Then she offered him the office of speaker. This too was refused. It is said that Rajapaksa said that he preferred his home in Medamulana to “Mumtaz Mahal”. He continued to remain in a room at “Srawasthi” when in Colombo. On 6 November 1962, upon the death of Deputy Chairman of Committees Wariyapola MP A.M.A. Adhikari, D.A. Rajapaksa was appointed to fill the vacancy. When the Speaker R.S. Pelpola resigned on 24 January 1964 to accept a ministerial portfolio, the then Deputy Speaker Hugh Fernando became Speaker. D.A. Rajapaksa succeeded Hugh Fernando as the Deputy Speaker, which position he held until the defeat of the Sirima Bandaranaike Government in December 1964. D.A. Rajapaksa lost his seat in 1965 and passed away in 1967.
Don Alvin Rajapaksa married Dona Dandina Samarasinghe Dissanayake of Palatuwa, Matara. They had nine children – six boys and three girls. Their names in the order of age are Chamal, Jayanthi (deceased), Mahinda, Tudor, Basil, Gotabaya, Preethi, Dudley and Gandini. The eldest Chamal and second son Mahinda were extremely attached to each other as children. Though the given name at birth was Percy Mahendra, he was called Mahinda by family and friends. Chamal and Mahinda were first admitted by their father to his alma mater Richmond College, Galle, run by the Methodist Church then. According to information provided by Buddhika Kurukularatne in his eminently readable series of articles published in ‘The Island’ under the column ‘Men and Memories,’ Mahinda was a naughty child but quite studious. Mahinda’s mother later moved to Galle , rented a house and lived with her children Chamal, Jayanthi, Mahinda and Tudor. The house was known as ‘Singapore House’.
Mahinda’s parents moved to Colombo in the mid-fifties. While Chamal and Jayanthi were placed in the hostels of Richmond and Southlands respectively, the younger kids including Mahinda were taken to Colombo. Mahinda was enrolled at Nalanda College. After a few years in 1957 he was moved to Thurstan College. After a few years Mahinda’s mother went back to Medamulana and D.A. Rajapaksa began staying at the “Srawasthi” MP hostel. Mahinda was first boarded at a home near Thurstan College but later began residing more and more at Srawasthi itself than in the boarding. Often he would travel to and from Srawasthi to Thurstan.
According to contemporaries at Thurstan, Mahinda was an impish student in College who often fell foul of the master in charge of discipline – the late Kingsley Fernando. Mahinda played cricket and rugger. Apparently he was good in batting being a ‘polladiya’ but was a horrible fielder known for repeated ‘bokkus’. In rugger he played in the pack as both prop and lock forward. He was good in athletics also and was the putt shot champion. Mahinda also ran in the 4×400 relay team. He was also a good orator and debater in Sinhala. Mahinda left school after completing his A/Level exams and worked as an assistant librarian at the Vidyodaya University later to be made the Vidyodaya campus and now the Sri Jayewardenapura University. Colleagues remember him as a jovial, fun-loving person. “Kana bona minihek” (eating, drinking man), described one. It was during this time that Mahinda got enamoured of left-leaning politics. He became a card carrying member of the Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU).
Beliatta SLFP Organizer
Meanwhile elder brother Chamal Rajapaksa joined the Police force as a Sub-Inspector. Their father D.A. Rajapaksa who had lost elections in 1965 passed away on 7 November 1967. Sri Lanka Freedom Party Leader Sirima Bandaranaike offered the post of party organiser for Beliatta to Chamal after D.A. died. Chamal however declined and recommended his malli Mahinda instead. Initially Mrs. Bandaranaike was hesitant thinking Mahinda was too young and somewhat irresponsible. Later on she relented and appointed Mahinda as Beliatta SLFP Organiser in 1968.
This brought about a marked change in Mahinda. He buckled down to the task and strove to meet the challenge. He gave up his Assistant Librarian job and relocated to Medamulana. He began working with the people at grass roots level. All the Rajapaksa brothers had been nurtured and brought up in a simple, down-to-earth lifestyle by their parents. Despite the posts they held later, all of them have experience in ploughing a field or driving a bullock cart. Thus it was quite easy for Mahinda to capture the hearts and minds of the ordinary people. Besides, the name Rajapaksa casts a magic spell on the denizens of Giruwapattuwa.
The 1970 elections saw the United Front sweeping the polls with the SLFP getting 91 seats and the LSSP and CP winning 19 and 6 seats respectively. Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa defeated his rival from the UNP, Dr. Ranjith K.P. Atapattu. Mahinda got 23,103 votes and Ranjith 16,477. In 1977 the roles were reversed with Ranjith Atapattu winning with 24,289 votes while Mahinda Rajapaksa got 17,896. Interestingly Mahinda’s father D.A. Rajapaksa and Ranjith’s father D.P. Atapattu had been rivals contesting Beliatta in each election from 1947. Sadly both fathers were not alive to see their sons become Beliatta MPs.
Mahinda Rajapaksa from Beliatta and Edwin Wickremaratne from Mahiyangana were the youngest MPs in the newly-elected Parliament. It is widely-claimed that Mahinda was the youngest MP then, though there are some who say Wickremaratne (who is no more) was younger by a few months. Those were the days when ministers were proportionately few and the fresher Mahinda remained a backbencher throughout the life of the 1970-’77 Parliament.
Mahinda also used to lag behind Anura Bandaranaike in those days. He accompanied Anura on jaunts abroad as well as in domestic trips. Both were close friends then and despite being an MP, Mahinda remained in Anura’s shadow. People compared their friendship with the relationship between their fathers. Mahinda used to refer to Anura as “Lokka”. Some changes made in the admissions criteria to Law College enabled Mahinda to enrol as a law student while being an MP. In July 1977 he lost the election but took his oaths as an Attorney-at-Law in November that year. After becoming a lawyer, Mahinda moved to Tangalle and established a lucrative practice in the south. His politics too continued albeit on a lower scale.
Mahinda got married in 1983 to Shiranthi Wickramasinghe, the daughter of Navy Commodore E.P. and Mrs. Wickramasinghe. Shiranthi is an old student of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya and a Catholic by religion. She is professionally-qualified in child psychology and pre-school education. Shiranthi is a former beauty queen who was crowned Miss Sri Lanka in 1973. She was also a contestant representing Sri Lanka at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Athens and the Miss World Competition in London in the same year. It is said that Mahinda was helped by former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva in ardently wooing Shiranthi Wickramasinghe. Apparently it was the ex-CJ who played both cupid and matchmaker in bringing the couple together. The Chief Justice of that time Neville Samarakoon and the Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) of the day Sam Wijesinha were the attesting witnesses. They have three sons – Namal, Yoshitha and Rohitha. All three are old Thomians, with an abiding interest in rugby and racing.
Though the SLFP was shattered by the colossal defeat of 1977 and the removal of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civic rights in 1980, the party began reviving itself to some extent after the 1982 presidential poll and referendum. The swing was more visible in the Ruhuna. In 1985 Mahinda’s elder brother Chamal Rajapaksa contested the Mulkirigala by election. Mahinda led the campaign for Chamal. There was a shooting incident and Mahinda was arrested and remanded for three months. Subsequently he was cleared by courts. It was during this time of imprisonment that the matriarch Mrs. D.A. Rajapaksa passed away and to Mahinda’s eternal sorrow he was not allowed to attend the funeral of his mother.
The 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord saw Mahinda playing an active role in opposing it. In 1989 he was elected to Parliament from the Hambantota District under the new election procedures. While in Parliament Mahinda along with Matara District MP Mangala Samaraweera worked tirelessly in opposing the UNP Government of the day and reinvigorating the SLFP. This was also the time of the second JVP insurgency and the country was in the grip of terror and counter terror. Among the many political activities of Mahinda during this time was his involvement along with Mangala Samaraweera with the Mothers’ Front formed by Dr. Manoranee Saravanamuttu, the mother of Richard de Zoysa. Apart from Mothers’ Front meetings and demonstrations, Mahinda also organised protests such as the Pada Yatras and Jana Goshas. He also went to the UN in Geneva with Vasudeva Nanayakkara to complain about the human rights violations of the Premadasa regime. On one occasion he was stopped at Katunayake Airport and the documents in his possession were confiscated.
The 1994 elections saw the People’s Alliance forming a Government. Chandrika Kumaratunga became Prime Minister and later President. Mahinda was first appointed as the Labour Minister and later Fisheries Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle. In 2001 the UNP formed the Government while Chandrika continued to be President. Mahinda Rajapaksa became Leader of the Opposition. In 2004 the UPFA formed the Government and Mahinda became Prime Minister. In 2005 the presidential elections were announced. Despite many intra-party obstacles, Mahinda Rajapaksa secured nomination as the presidential candidate in the November 2005 elections.
LTTE Enforced Boycott
Mahinds had in earlier times been quite content to play second fiddle to Anura Bandaranaike and then Chandrika Kumaratunga. However, he began asserting himself at one point and began staking his claim for what he felt was rightfully his. The Opposition Leader and Prime Ministerial posts had to come to him as his rightful due. There was no other person worthy of those posts than Mahinda in the SLFP at that time. Thereafter the ‘Mahinda Gamana’ could end only at Janadhipathi Mandiraya.However the road from Medamulana in Giruwapattuwa to President’s House in Colombo was not easy.The LTTE enforced boycott in the North and East in 2005 helped Mahinda defeat Ranil in the presidential poll.
What happened thereafter is now history! The Rajapaksa Govt pursued the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with ruthless determination. After many deaths and much displacement, destruction and despair, the war ended with the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. The Rajapaksas cleverly converted the war – victory euphoria into political victories in the 2010 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The Ruhunu Rajapaksas perceived as the first family in Sri Lankan politics began ruling the roost in authoritarian mode. With the 18th Constitutional Amendment being passed, the two -term limit for contesting Presidential elections was removed. It appeared that the politically invincible Mahinda Rajapaksa was set to rule Sri Lanka for life as President.
“The best laid plans of men and mice and men often go awry” observed Scottish poet Robert Burns. When presidential elections were called ahead of time, party secretary and senior cabinet minister Maithripala Sirisena defected and became the common opposition candidate. The January 2015 Presidential poll resulted in Maithripala Sirisena (51.28%) defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa (47.58%).A UNP led coalition Govt was formed with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and Maithripala Sirisena as President. The 19th Constitutional Amendment re-imposing the two -term limit for the Presidency was passed. With Mahinda Rajapaksa being Constitutionally debarred from contesting the presidency again, it appeared that the political fortunes of the Ruhunu Rajapaksas was on the wane. A number of inquiries probing the alleged corruption and abuse of power by various Rajapaksa family members were initiated. Cases were filed in courts and a few Rajapaksas like Basil and Namal were even imprisoned for short periods. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa continues to wage many legal battles to ward off arrest and potential detention.
In such a situation many political observers felt that the writing was on the wall politically for the Ruhunu Rajapaksas. But that is not not what seems to have happened. Despite the adverse setbacks, the political stock of the Ruhunu Rajapaksas continue to remain on par with “Medamulana Mahinda” continuing to retain his position as the single-most popular political leader in the seven provinces outside the North and East. Moreover the newly formed Sri Lanka Podu Jana Party (SLPP) which revolves around Mahinda Rajapaksa has got the better of both the UNP and SLFP and emerged as the leading victor at the local authorities elections. The UNP-SLFP coalition government describes itself as a “national unity “ Govt. but there are deep divisions within. It does not appear to be national nor united. President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe are at loggerheads with each other.The UNP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ministers within the Govt. perceive each other as enemies rather than cabinet colleagues bound by collective responsibility.
Against that backdrop the Mahinda led opposition is confident that the days of the Govt are numbered and that the political resurgence and return to power of the Ruhunu Rajapaksas is inevitable. The Rajapaksa camp asserts boldly that either Mahinda or a suitable person nominated by him would be at the helm of Sri Lankan affairs soon.
Speculation is rife that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa endorsed and supported by Mahinda would contest and win the presidency. It remains to be seen as to whether these expectations would be fulfilled or whether these hopes will turn into dupes! One thing however is certain. The Ruhunu Rajapaksa political dynasty spearheaded by Medamulana Mahinda has come to stay in Sri Lankan politics.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is an updated version of an article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appearing in the “Daily Mirror” of August 11th, 2018. It can be reached via this link: