‘To be politically active in the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’

Sri Lanka’s former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, on Thursday, said he was resigning from Parliament, even as he sought to deflect blame for Sri Lanka’s economic grave crisis.

Basil stepped down from his ministerial post early in April amid furious public protests demanding that the Rajapaksa clan quit office, taking responsibility for the downturn that has left citizens struggling amid record inflation and acute shortages of essentials. In May, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down, but remains a legislator.

‘To be active politically’

Although he was resigning as a legislator, Basil said he would continue to be politically active in the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) that he built from scratch after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s poll defeat in 2015.

His family was “better at politics than governance”, the resigning MP told reporters, adding: “India’s RSS has been around for years, but they do not govern directly. The BJP has taken on that role.”

This is not the first time Basil has likened his party’s politics to that of India’s ruling party. He has, in the past, vowed to model the SLPP on the Chinese Communist Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which he said were “the best two” examples.

In July 2021, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Basil, the youngest of the Rajapaksa brothers, as Finance Minister.

He became the fourth Rajapaksa brother to enter Cabinet at that time. Until then, Mahinda, who was Prime Minister at that time, also helmed the Finance Ministry. As it faced wide public criticism owing to the economic meltdown, the ruling party projected Basil – who was Economic Development Minister in the former Rajapaksa administration – as the man who would bring much-needed pragmatic solutions to the raging crisis. Power cuts, shortages, and price rise worsened in the following months, leading to greater citizens’ mobilisation from the beginning of this year.

“I think I did all that I could do. But I couldn’t do everything the people wanted,” said Basil, who, along with Gotabaya and Mahinda, has been openly attacked by demonstrators.

On whether the proposed 21st Amendment (21A) to the Constitution, with a clause barring dual citizens from entering the House, contributed to his decision, Basil, who is also an American citizen, said it had not. Basil said he gave up his seat to make way for someone suitable. It is widely rumoured that Dhammika Perera, a businessman and casino magnate, could be brought to Parliament in his place.

(Meera Srinivasan is The Hindu’s correspondent in Colombo)

Published on June 09, 2022