The first attempt by a Rajapaksa to return to power in Sri Lanka was brief.
In 2018, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as prime minister, even though the man he was supposedly replacing said he still held the job. Mr. Rajapaksa eventually backed down, though not before chairs were smashed and chili powder and fists were thrown in Parliament.
But a year later, his brother Gotabaya was elected president. Since then, the Rajapaksas have stamped their name so thoroughly on Sri Lanka’s government that it feels like a family enterprise — albeit a struggling one, with the economy in tatters and discontent rising.
On Thursday, another brother, Basil, was sworn in as finance minister, a move that one analyst, Bhavani Fonseka, said “consolidated the Rajapaksa family rule.”
“We now have four brothers and several other members of the family holding key positions in government,” said Ms. Fonseka, a senior researcher with the Center for Policy Alternatives, a research institute based in Colombo, the capital. “In the face of a weak opposition and no real checks and balances on the executive, prospects for Sri Lanka’s constitutional democracy are deeply troubling.”
Gotabaya Rajpaksa, 72, gave himself the additional post of defense minister shortly after becoming president. He soon made Mahinda, 75, the prime minister, also putting him in charge of the Ministries of Religious Affairs and Urban Development. (He was the finance minister, too, before Basil got the job.) The eldest brother, Chamal Rajapaksa, 78, was named the minister of irrigation, as well as the state minister of home affairs and of national security and disaster management.
Then came the second generation. Namal Rajapaksa, 35, Mahinda’s son and a former captain of the national rugby team, was named minister of youth and sports. He is also the state minister of digital technology and enterprise development. Chamal’s son Shasheendra Rajapaksa got a portfolio too long to fit on a business card: He is the minister of state for “paddy and cereals, organic food, vegetables, fruits, chilies, onions and potatoes, seed production and high-tech agriculture.”
The family has been in power for much of the past two decades. During his 10 years as president, Mahinda Rajapaksa ended Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war in 2009, crushing the rebels known as the Tamil Tigers. His brothers held key posts then, too: Gotabaya led the Defense Ministry, where he was accused of human rights abuses in the final stretch of the war, while Chamal was the speaker of Parliament and Basil was a minister in the cabinet.