Home WORLD NEWS Ex-leader Mahinda Rajapaksa will not flee Sri Lanka: Top aide

Ex-leader Mahinda Rajapaksa will not flee Sri Lanka: Top aide

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Colombo, Sri Lanka – The man who paved the way for the Rajapaksa dynasty’s dominance over Sri Lankan politics has no plans to flee the country, like two of his brothers did, according to a top aide of the former strongman.

Mahinda’s younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, escaped to the Maldives on Wednesday after thousands of protesters stormed his residence last week.

He reportedly flew to Singapore in a Saudi plane on Thursday as the nation awaits his resignation.

Another brother and former finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, also left the country this week as the political unrest intensified.

But former President and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 76-year-old patriarch of the powerful clan, has no such plans, said one of his top aides.

Mahinda’s eldest son, former minister Namal, has already publicly stated that he would not leave the country as it battles its worst economic meltdown since 1948 – a crisis largely blamed on over two decades of Rajapaksa rule.

“They both have clearly said they would not leave Sri Lanka, but Mahinda Rajapaksa is really sad about the situation,” the aide who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

Mahinda, who entered politics in 1970, became Sri Lanka’s fifth executive president in 2005 after a closely-fought battle with another veteran, current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Mahinda’s presidency paved the way for several of his brothers, including Gotabaya and Basil, to hold prominent positions in the Sri Lanka administration.

During his presidency, Mahinda, along with then-Defence Secretary Gotabaya, brutally crushed a decades-long rebellion by the ethnic Tamils in the north, a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives, including 40,000 civilians.

In the last stages of the civil war that ended in 2009, Mahinda’s government was accused of wartime atrocities, extrajudicial killings and other systematic abuses.

Many in the Buddhist-majority nation of 22 million people hailed Mahinda for his brutal crushing of the civil war, calling him a hero.

At the height of their popularity, the Rajapaksas were revered as a “royal family”, with many people, including senior politicians and officials, literally bowing down before them.

Sri Lanka Protest
Sri Lankan protesters dressed as Mahinda Rajapaksa, centre, Gotabaya, right, and Basil [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

After winning the general election with a sweeping majority in 2019, Gotabaya appointed Mahinda as the prime minister in a new Rajapaksa administration.

But in a reversal of fortunes for the island’s most powerful clan, Mahinda was forced to resign as prime minister earlier this year following a deadly protest over an escalating economic crisis.

Rajapaksa’s villa in the family stronghold of Hambantota district was painted with graffiti, asking them to quit politics, and a museum dedicated to his father was ransacked.

Rift between brothers?

Mahinda’s aide also indicated that there was a rift between him and Gotabaya, the military officer-turned-president who fled.

“It was because of him [Mahinda] that Gotabaya came to power, but once elected, the prime minister was sidelined by his own brother,” the aide told Al Jazeera.

“Until the last moment, Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t know how to govern but he never listened to Mahinda’s advice.”

Speaking on a social media platform in May, Gotabaya’s cousin Udayanga Weeratunga also said the president never consulted with the prime minister while making decisions.

Weeratunga described Gotabaya as a man “with a military mindset who only understands military way of dealing with things”.

Sri Lankan media have reported that Mahinda was reluctant to nominate Gotabaya as the presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, a fact that was confirmed to Al Jazeera by the top aide.

It was due to pressure from Viyath Maga, a pressure group created by supporters of Gotabaya to contest the elections, that Mahinda finally agreed to nominate him.

Reports also say Namal is being groomed by Mahinda to be a future leader and carry forward the family’s legacy in politics.

“Now Gotabaya has not only s*****d the country, but has also destroyed Namal’s future and the whole legacy of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is too late now but I think Gotabaya might have learned his lesson,” Mahinda’s aide said.

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