Colombo: Sri Lanka’s powerful and controversial Rajapaksa clan on Thursday tightened its grip on political power with President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa administering oath to his elder sibling Mahinda as the new Prime Minister, amidst apprehensions among the minority Tamils and Muslims in the island nation.
Mahinda assumed duties in his new capacity on Thursday itself. The 74-year-old leader will function as the Prime Minister of the caretaker cabinet until the general election in August 2020.
Mahinda took the oath as the new Prime Minister at the Presidential Secretariat, three days after Gotabhaya was sworn in as the president.
Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former president Maithripala Sirisena and a number of other political leaders were present on the occasion.
This is Mahinda’s second innings as the Prime Minister. He was premier for a brief period in 2018 amidst a major political turmoil in the country.
Earlier in the day, Wickremesignhe formally tendered his resignation to President Gotabhaya. Wickremesignhe announced his resignation on Wednesday following the presidential election debacle of his United National Party (UNP).
Gotabhaya defeated UNP’s Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa in the presidential election held on November 16.
Soon after he was sworn in as the President, Gotabhaya thanked the powerful Buddhist clergy for backing his presidential bid and vowed to protect all communities, while giving foremost priority to Buddhism. He also thanked the Sinhala-majority people for electing him.
“I knew I would win the presidency with support coming only from the Sinhala majority. I told the minorities to join me. I did not receive their support. But I will make sure that I will be president for everyone,” he said.
Muslims make up nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s over 21 million people, who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists. About 12 per cent of the population are Hindus, mostly from the ethnic Tamil minority. Some seven per cent of the population are Christians.