Sri Lanka’s Basil Rajapaksa steps aside from government

Sri Lanka’s Basil Rajapaksa steps aside from government

The brother of Sri Lanka's president and country's former finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, said on Thursday he had resigned from parliament, the second from the influential family to step aside from government amid a severe economic crisis. I will not be involved in any government activities from today, but I cannot and will not step away from politics, Rajapaksa said.

He told reporters in Colombo, Sri Lanka's commercial capital that the aim is to allow someone else to be appointed to Parliament in my place from the party. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister last month after prolonged protests against the economic crisis turned deadly.

Mahinda is a member of the parliament. The three Rajapaksa siblings have been key players in Sri Lankan politics for decades, but are blamed for mishandling the island's economy by protesters who have taken to the streets in their thousands in recent months.

Infighting between brothers has also played a part in Sri Lanka's slide into turmoil, but Basil Rajapaksa is likely to retain influence, according to a report by Reuters. The country of 22 million people is experiencing its worst economic crisis in seven decades, with shortages of fuel, medicines, and cooking gas because of a lack of foreign exchange.

The new prime minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is now leading efforts to find a way out of the crisis, with negotiations underway with the International Monetary Fund IMF for a loan program and support from friendly countries, including India and China. Wickremesinghe has only one seat in the parliament, so he is dependent on the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna SLPP party that Basil Rajapaksa has helped rebuild into a political force.

BR will continue to be a force in Sri Lankan politics regardless of whether or not an MP, said Bhavani Fonseka, senior researcher at the Colombo think-tank Centre for Policy Analysis, referring to Basil Rajapaksa by his initials. Fonseka said that the question is how much influence or control he has over the SLPP.

SLPP and its coalition partners have a comfortable majority in the 225 seat legislature, and several sources told Reuters that members of the ruling party remain loyal to Basil Rajapaksa. The veteran politician, who served as finance minister between July, 2021 and April this year, denied he had failed to show Sri Lanka's descent into financial turmoil.

After becoming finance minister, I was the one who wrote the first letter to the IMF. He said that it is the work I started that is now being taken forward.