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Rajapaksa brothers set to dominate Sri Lanka again

 Moment of reckoning
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Moment of reckoning

Sri Lanka goes to the polls on Saturday for a presidential election that will be a decisive moment for its future. The country is still reeling from the Easter Sunday bombings of April 2019, in which more than 250 people died, as well as 18 months of political instability and infighting.

The Rajapaksas, best known for the brutal defeat of separatist Tamil rebels and then drawing Sri Lanka into China's orbit when the West and India shunned the Indian Ocean island, are back at the centre of the nation's deeply divisive politics and it is stoking fear.

AFP
A Family Affair
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A Family Affair

One brother is considered a shoo-in for the job of Sri Lanka's president in elections this weekend and another is eyeing the prime minister's post when that election becomes due early next year.

Two other brothers are political strategists for their Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party and one of them is considering a shot at becoming the speaker in parliament. Three men of the family's next generation are also in politics.

Mahinda is the obvious choice for PM, and Chamal would be the choice for speaker, say experts.

Reuters
The Rajapaksa outcast
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The Rajapaksa outcast

Mahinda lost the 2015 presidential election to a cabinet colleague who turned against him - Maithripala Sirisena. After his ouster, the family's fortunes fell into decline.

Mahinda is barred from running for president again, and is on the stump for Gotabaya, bringing an affable touch to the campaign against the rather gruff manner of his brother, more known for his military machismo.

Getty Images
Eyeing the presidency
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Eyeing the presidency

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of seven brothers who have dominated Sri Lankan politics for over a decade: Mahinda was president for 10 years until the 2015 election, with Gotabaya Rajapaksa serving as his defence minister. Gotabaya is the hot favourite to win the presidential election this Saturday.

He led the operations against the Tamil Tigers when his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president. Gotabaya has faced lawsuits in Sri Lanka and in the United States over allegations of staged killings of Tamil separatists, critics and journalists during the war.

Reuters
Stoking fears
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Stoking fears

Gotabaya’s campaign has played on security fears that have lingered since the Easter attacks, while positioning him as a strongman who would keep the country safe. This position has a lot of support among the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, because security and stability were the two failings of the UNP.

However there are fears that a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency could bring back the repression and human rights abuses that were prominent during the civil war and in the immediate years after, when the Rajapaksas were in power.

AP
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Copyright © 2019 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service