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The Rajapaksa oligarchy is now a politically spent force. Yet they seem deaf and blind to their rejection by a nation of twenty-two million.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, stubbornly clings on to the Executive Presidency deluded that the 6.9 million – now dropping dead in endless queues for their basic needs – who voted him to power, still want him to remain as their President. Over 50 days-long and still continuing protests – first nonviolent but now violent – demanding him to step down, seem to be going over his head like water off a duck’s back.

Despite driving the country’s economy to the ground, Rajapaksa still prides himself on the overwhelming win of 6.9 million votes at the 2019 Presidential elections, and points out that there is no need for him to step down before his term ends.

Thus, with the President refusing to budge, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is attempting to reduce the Executive President’s powers – introduced through the undemocratic 20th Amendment to the Constitution –  through the introduction of the 21st Amendment. 

The 20th Amendment by and for the Rajapaksas’ marked the lowest point in the Constitutional history of Sri Lanka and dealt a massive blow to Democracy. It became a subject of political controversy as activists, civil society and the international community expressed concerns over its bias towards the Rajapaksa family. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is attempting to reduce the Executive President’s powers – introduced through the undemocratic 20th Amendment to the Constitution –  through the introduction of the 21st Amendment. 

Critics called it a constitutional bombshell as it was deemed a violation of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. For the first time in Sri Lanka’s recent political history, the 19th Amendment introduced by the previous UNP government led by the then Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, saw equal executive power shared by the President and the Cabinet. But, the 20th Amendment passed by the current SLPP led government reversed that by annulling the 19th Amendment and bestowing unprecedented power in a single individual holding the office of the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Thus, the 20th Amendment weakened the powers of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, while removing many checks and balances that were placed on the Executive President under the 19th Amendment. 

The Rajapaksa brothers have dominated Sri Lanka’s politics for the best part of the last 20 years, since 2005. They controlled three-quarters of the national budget and drew popular support, notwithstanding allegations of blatant human rights abuses and corruption involving questionable deals with Chinese state companies. 

But now, the tables have turned.

If the 21st Amendment sees the light of day, it will not only curb the unfettered powers of the President but also prohibit those holding dual citizenship from becoming Members of Parliament. The causality of this clause will be another Rajapaksa brother – Basil Rajapaksa – the cunning political strategist in the Rajapaksa family, whose Achilles’ heel is his American citizenship.

The ruling Rajapaksas’ political party- the SLPP, headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa, was the brainchild of the dual citizen and National List MP, Basil Rajapaksa. The SLPP – brimming with Rajapaksa loyalists – wields an overwhelming majority in Parliament. With the disgraced former Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa seemingly temporarily out of the picture, it is Basil Rajapaksa who now calls the shots behind the scenes, and will fight tooth and nail to retain his Parliamentary membership, while holding on to his dual citizenship as well. 

Recent developments are also seeing two political power centres – one under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and another under former Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Ever since the wartime Defence Secretary and political greenhorn, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was catapulted into the Executive Presidential seat in 2019, the Rajapaksa family became fraught with infighting and divisions that culminated in Sri Lanka’s political and economic ruin.

Current and former ministers, foreign diplomats and Rajapaksa confidants told The Washington Post that, Gotabaya and Mahinda along with their respective factions, clashed over ministerial appointments and agricultural policies, investment deals and political favours. 

Distrust between the two brothers – Gotabaya and Mahinda – went to the extent of Mahinda loyalists accusing Gotabaya loyalists in the Army of purposely delaying in coming to the rescue of Mahinda and his family, holed up at Temple Trees for several hours on 9 May – referred to now as Black Monday – despite being besieged by violently furious protesters.

If the 21st Amendment is passed in Parliament, Basil Rajapaksa – the most controversial member of the Rajapaksa oligarchy – will stand to lose the most.

If the 21st Amendment is passed in Parliament, Basil Rajapaksa – the most controversial member of the Rajapaksa oligarchy – will stand to lose the most. He will not only be deprived of his membership in Parliament, but legal action against him for several allegations of corruption levelled against him will also be expedited. 

Basil Rajapaksa is under investigation for many alleged corruption related scandals and abuse of state assets.  He has also earned a reputation as “Mr. Ten Percent” for alleged commissions he has taken from government contracts. 

Basil Rajapaksa has thus far managed to evade the long arm of the law, thanks to Judges servile to the Rajapaksas. But now, with the status quo ante changing and a course alignment taking place – caused mainly by mass protests against the Rajapaksas – the judiciary and the bureaucracy appear to be more cautious. Yet, the shrewd and conniving Basil Rajapaksa, appears to be resorting to all sorts of machinations using the parliament majority of the SLPP to stem the tide against him. But, not all SLPP MPs are willing to continue eating off Basil’s hand.

The provision in the draft of the 21st Amendment seeking the exclusion of dual citizens from Parliamentary membership has the support of a considerable section of the ruling SLPP. But, a handful of those backing Basil Rajapaksa have launched a mega campaign to undermine Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s efforts to get the 21st Amendment passed in Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Opposition led by the SJB and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have made it clear that they will not support the 21st Amendment in Parliament. Their stance has drawn much criticism and is seen by many as ‘playing dirty politics’ at the expense of a suffering nation.  

Without the support of the collective Opposition to get the 21st Amendment passed in Parliament, the Government has no option but raise numbers within the ruling SLPP by filling vacant Ministerial and State Ministerial slots in the Cabinet. 

The coming days will indeed be eventful in Sri Lanka.


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