Monday, February 22, 2010

Rise of Sri Lankan President’s son Namal Rajapaksa sparks concern

Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent - Modesty is apparently not a strong point for Namal Rajapaksa, the 23-year-old son of the Sri Lankan President and scion of Asia’s newest political dynasty.

His website says: “A future leader with a friendly spirit and possessing good values is what comes to mind when meeting the dashing and smashing young Namal Rajapaksa."

The keen rugby player graduated from London’s City University in September with a third-class law degree. He now clearly plans to follow in the footsteps of his father, Mahinda, who was an MP at 24 and went on to defeat his former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, in a presidential election last month.

Last week, after General Fonseka’s arrest, Namal was accepted by his father’s party as a candidate in parliamentary elections on April 8, joining dozens of other relatives in government and politics. One rumour suggests that he could take over the politically powerful position of Custodian of the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine.

Namal’s meteoric rise was hailed last week in a eulogy on the official government news portal, entitled The Doctrine of Namal Rajapaksa — Activism and Positivism in Politics.

For most Sri Lankans it came as no surprise: Namal campaigned alongside his father and used an NGO that he runs to fund a lavish television advertising campaign promoting the incumbent. For many, however, his political debut, and the personality cult surrounding it, are worrying indications of the demise of South Asia’s oldest democracy.

Over the past fortnight international concern has focused on the arrest of General Fonseka — who led the army to victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels last year — on charges of plotting a coup. Equally troubling, however, is the Rajapaksa clan’s ever-tightening grip on power — especially if the ruling coalition wins a two-thirds majority in April, allowing it to change the Constitution.

Alan Keenan, of the International Crisis Group, said that the President had had reason to surround himself with family when he came to power in 2005, as he faced many political enemies and the threat of assassination by the Tigers.

“Up to a point, it was understandable. But now it does seem to have reached an extreme level, and with real dangers,” he said. “There’s always been corruption, but businessmen in Colombo now complain it’s got to the point where you have to know a Rajapaksa to get something done. That’s unprecedented.”

Now Namal is being touted as a potential successor to his father, whose second and final term will end in 2016. Supporters say that this is no different from the Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan or the Kennedys and the Bushes in the US.

T.C. Rajaratnam, who wrote last week’s official eulogy, said: “His style is unique and incomparable. If Sri Lanka has to develop at a rapid pace then Namal Rajapaksa should have the controlling authority.”

Critics say that such eulogies smack of the kind of personality cult surrounding Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader.

Sri Lanka's ruling dynasty

Mahinda - President, Minister of Finance, Media, Religious Affairs & Moral Upliftment, Highways and Road Development

Gotabaya (younger brother) - Secretary of ministries of Defence, Public Security, and Law and Order

Basil (older brother) - MP and senior presidential adviser on economic and international affairs

Chamal (older brother) - Minister of Ports and Aviation and Minister of Irrigation and Water Management

Shashindra (Chamal’s son) - MP and Chief Minister of Uva province

Jaliya Wickramasuriya (Mahinda’s first cousin) - Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States

Udayanga Weeratunga (Mahinda’s first cousin) - Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia

Kapila Dissanayake (Mahinda’s cousin) - councillor of Southern Province and President’s co-ordinating secretary in Hambantota

© Times Online
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