ECONOMYNEXT – Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to take over the leadership of a new party formed by his younger brother Basil and announce the presidential candidacy of another sibling – Gotabaya – on Sunday.
Basil Rajapaksa, a former Economic Affairs minister under Rajapaksa said his older brother will be formally named the leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) at a ceremony at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Sunday.
Three senior members of the SLPP ended speculation about their candidate by confirming that Gotabaya will be formally anointed on Sunday during the party’s convention on Sunday.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is officially a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and risks losing his seat in parliament if he ceases t6o be a member of the party from which he secured nominations for the August 2015 parliamentary elections.
However, with less than four months into the presidential election, the SLFP may not have enough time to expel any SLFP member defecting to the SLPP. Besides, Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena have had closed door talks on forging an electoral pact for the upcoming presidential polls.
Official sources said that President Sirisena was inclined to support former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidacy. Sirisena has also decided not to seek another term. The election is due to be held anytime between November 9 and December 9 unless Sirisena calls an earlier election.
Sources close to the Rajapaksa camp said that Sirisena wanted to retain the ministry of Environment in exchange for support to Gotabaya at the presidential election.
“The talks are still ongoing, but the agreement at the moment is that the President (Sirisena) will not contest, but support Gotabaya,” a party official said.
Mahinda Rajapaksa will formally announced the candidacy of Gotabaya who will immediately visit Anuradhapura and Kandy to seek the blessings of the Buddhist clergy.
Gotabhaya is currently on bail pending his prosecution before the Permanent Trial-at-Bar investigating the alleged misappropriation of state funds to build a monument for his late parents.
He is also facing civil action before a US court over the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the torture of a Tamil rebel suspect when his brother was in power.
Gotabaya reportedly renounced his US citizenship and resumed his Sri Lankan nationality in May to enter the presidential race. However, civil society activists on Thursday filed police complaints challenging his resumption of Sri Lankan citizenship saying he had not followed due process. (COLOMBO, August 8, 2019)