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One brother is considered likely to become Sri Lanka’s president in elections this weekend. Another brother is thinking about seeking the prime minister’s job after parliamentary elections early next year.
Two other brothers shape policies for their Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party. One of them may become the speaker in parliament. Three members of the family’s next generation are also active in politics.
The Rajapaksas are back at the center of Sri Lankan politics, and some of the country’s citizens are worried.
The four brothers are famous for the defeat of Tamil rebels as well as moving the island nation away from the West and towards China.
While there are no opinion studies of likely voters, former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the favorite to win the presidential election on Saturday. His chief opponent is Sajith Premadasa, a government minister.
Gotabaya led the military operations against Tamil Tiger rebels when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president. Gotabaya has faced legal action in Sri Lanka and the United States over reports of staged killings of Tamil separatists, critics and journalists during the war.
Both brothers deny the accusations and say they are a part of a Western plot to interfere in the nation of 22 million. Sri Lanka has long had conflict between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and minority ethnic Tamils. In recent months, the Sinhalese have also targeted the island’s Muslim community.
Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 presidential election to Maithripala Sirisena. Out of office, the family’s influence decreased.
Last April, attackers bombed hotels and churches, killing more than 250 people nationwide. The Easter Sunday bombings nearly destroyed Sirisena’s presidency. He has announced he will not seek re-election.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks. The bombings have increased public support for the Rajapaksas and their politics of Sinhalese nationalism.
Mahinda is barred by law from seeking another term as president, so he is campaigning for his brother, Gotabaya.
Another brother, Basil, oversees the party’s finances. He also makes agreements with competing groups, while a fourth brother and former speaker, Chamal, campaigns in the family stronghold in the south of the island.
Currently, Mahinda is the leader of the opposition in parliament. He is the clear choice for prime minister when parliamentary elections are held next year, said Keheliya Rambukwella, the Gotabaya campaign’s spokesman.
Chamal Rajapaksa would be the choice for parliament speaker, a position he held in the past, political experts say. In all, seven members of the family are involved in politics, and some of the others could also end up in parliament.
“We are going to see family rule again, and all the excesses that came up with it the last time,” said Health Minister Rajitha Senarathne.
The state-operated newspaper Sunday Observer wrote in an editorial that it was “afraid” of a Gotabaya presidency and appealed to voters to make the “right choice.”
“A wrong choice will send the country…toward authoritarianism,” it said.
Gotabaya’s spokesman dismissed warnings about family rule, saying the candidate was quite clear: ability will be the only consideration for top political jobs.
“When Gotabaya comes to power, he will appoint people with qualification to the positions,” Rambukwella said.
During the election campaign, Gotabaya has been talking about the need to strengthen national security. He repeatedly has spoken about the Easter Sunday attacks.
At a campaign event in central Sri Lanka, Gotabaya said he had raised special-forces to stop extremism, drug traffickers and criminals during his time as defense secretary. He added that the power of these troops had been weakened since he left office.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
staged – adj. produced for public effect
journalist – n. a news reporter or media worker
excess – adj. an amount that is more than the usual or necessary amount
dissent – n. to publicly disagree with an official opinion, decision, or set of beliefs
editorial – n. a commentary in a newspaper or magazine that gives the opinions of its editors or publishers
authoritarianism – n. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws; not permitting personal freedom